The World Health Channel: an innovation for health and development.World Hosp Health Serv. 2004; 40(4):36-9.WH
The issues of the digital divide and of accessing health information in areas of greatest need has been addressed by many. It has been a key component of the discussion of the World Summit for the Information Society and also the focus of an important new initiative, the Global Review for Health Information. Only approximately 1 in 700 people in Africa have internet access compared to a rate worldwide of approximately 10%. Access to essential health information and knowledge management for health care has been deemed a priority for the development of health systems and for the care of patients in areas with limited resources, prompting recent efforts by international organisations and by both governmental and non-governmental agencies (see Godlee et al, 2004 and McConnell, 2004). Health care in developing countries can be limited by many different resources: lack of health care workers with sufficient training, lack of diagnostic equipment, lack of treatment facilities or essential pharmaceuticals; and lack of education or expertise in many relevant areas. Much of the health care done in developing countries is by local lay persons or practitioners or by volunteers working with a variety of NGOs. These volunteers are often very dedicated young people with a vision of health-for-all that is often frustrated in the limited time they are able to spend in these areas and further constrained by meager resources (including availability of appropriate information). The availability of medical expertise and consultation depends largely on the geographical location of the health practitioner and of the patient as well as the level of integration with local practitioners and extent of outside agency involvement. Futhermore, there are often many NGOs working simultaneously on similar projects in the same region without knowledge of each other's activities. Often this occurs simply because a lack of communication exists between organisations, resulting in unnecessary duplication of effort. The availability of medical expertise and consultation depends largely on the geographical location of the health practitioner and of the patient as well as the level of integration with local practitioners and extent of outside agency involvement. The health care worker in developing countries is frequently faced with a paucity of information appropriate to the clinical situations on hand as well as a lack of locally available expertise. The lack of access to health care and other vital resources is one factor in the much lower (by approximately 1/3) life expectancy in the least developed countries campared to industrialised nations. In many developing countries there is only one doctor for 5-10,00 people, compared to a ratio of 1:200 in many developed countries. Textbooks, if they exist, may be 10-20 years out of date and are often directed more at the needs of developed countries. There is thus a growing need for wider availability of training and information on health care in developing countries and support for health care workers. There is also a need for increased communication and collaboration between governmental and non-governmental organisations working in international health to share education, resources and to coordinate efforts in areas supporting improved health care delivery. In recognition of this, the Institute for Sustainable Health Education and Development (www.ished.org) is launching the World Health Channel (WHC) in the spring of 2005 in collaboration with WorldSpace. This will allow access to critical health information in developing countries and place the emphasis on issues important for clinical care for front line health workers in these areas.