|Bridge Builders: African Experiences with Information & Communication (BOSTID, 1996, 304 p.)|
|Case studies on the introduction of cd-rom to university libraries|
The need for improved access to bibliographic and other information related to health issues of African countries has long been felt by researchers, development agents, health administrators, and planners both inside and outside the continent. Very few African health and biomedical information sources are included in the world's leading bibliographic databases. Thus, access to information on health and medical research in the region is inadequate and, unless researchers publish in non-African journals, their work may be overlooked or duplicated. Further, there is a wealth of untapped information in books, reports and studies from international development agencies, non-governmental organizations and local institutions.
The African Index Medicus (AIM) was initiated by the Association for Health Information and Libraries in Africa (AHILA) to provide improved access to health information published in or related to Africa. At its consultative meeting in January 1993, in Accra, Ghana, AHILA members made decisions regarding contents, standard data-input format, methods of exchange of database records, and training needs. Participants at this meeting included AHILA committee members, potential pilot-site librarians from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, and technical support staff from the World Health Organization. With sponsorship from the Health Foundation (New York), WHO has recently completed training of librarians in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda.
With technical assistance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and support in the form of training and equipment from the Health Foundation and other agencies, the project is steadily growing with the motivation and hard work of the African health librarians. Indeed, Regina Shakakata, one of the contributors to AIM, calls the project "the pride of Africa because it developed with the efforts of AHILA members." Ms. Shakakata says that, in Zambia, the AIM project means that the local literature created by health professionals is indexed and disseminated widely using the printed media intra-nationally and the Internet gophers internationally. As a spin-off-service, her Medical Library collects the full text articles of the indexed items and integrates them into the University of Zambia Medical Library collection.
The project is a decentralized one that gives participating institutions greater bibliographic control of their national health information materials. Databases of bibliographic records of local health materials are created at the national level, using CDS-ISIS software. They are then merged with records relating to health in Africa emanating from other international databases, such as WHO's WHOLIS, POPLINE, and others. The bibliographic database is only one of the components of the project. AIM also intends to create files on health-related research, health information experts, and health information resources and services. Seven issues of AIM have appeared. Input centers are in anglophone and lusophone countries and francophone countries have been encouraged to join in the project.
A sample file from the database is available on the Internet from the WHO gopher (gopher.who.ch) in order to give visibility to the project in developed countries. Through increased visibility, WHO and the AIM participants hope to garner support for AHILA's efforts by encouraging people and institutions to become affiliated members in order to receive the latest print version of AIM. AHILA's existence depends on its membership. Many of the AIM participants have pointed out the difficulty of getting such a project off the ground with little or no funding. They encourage other African countries to join the AIM project and welcome partnerships with bilateral agencies and others interested in this unique grassroots, south-south project.
The success of the African Index Medicus Project is due, in large part, to the efforts of Dr. Deborah Avriel, who joined WHO in 1984 and was Chief Librarian from 1987 until her death in June 1995. Dr. Avriel's global vision consistently emphasized the importance of library and information services for health professionals in the developing world. Her enthusiasm and commitment to the cause of health information in the poorer countries motivated and encouraged her colleagues even at a distance. As a vocal supporter and untiring friend of Africa, she gave vigorous backing to the launching of the AIM Project.