Where do people go to get accurate health information when an emergency strikes? Where do they get the best routine health advice on a day-to-day basis? Countries typically have very scattered health information resources. Researchers, policymakers, and such intermediaries as print and broadcast journalists, medical librarians and publishers often work in silos and rarely communicate with each other effectively.
By providing a national platform to all stakeholders, the typical fragmentation is removed from the work of health information sharing. Instead of a variety of often-conflicting sources, false information, disguised marketing, etc., this programme unites knowledge producers, intermediaries and users, and adds value to existing work in this area.
The Building Bridges Programme: A Quantum Leap in National Health Communications
- Working at national level, Building Bridges brings together everybody involved in receiving, modifying and sharing information about health into an online network supplemented by regular face-to-face forums. Building Bridges organizes an annual three-day seminar, initially to bring the stakeholders on board, and subsequently to keep it on track. A strong partnership between national and external actors is key to success of the seminars, and the local organizers and interest groups work between seminars to develop the network. The aim of these meetings is to promote the dissemination of health research and information to lay-people and policy-makers by fostering long-term relationships between researchers, policy-makers and knowledge intermediaries, ideally by establishing a digital network in the requesting country. Building Bridges’ central premise is that greater access to more accurate information leads to better decisions, healthier behaviours, and more effective policies. Good health information also increases the general health literacy throughout the country.
- A national health communications network (with emergency and routine components) is established. This is coordinated by an African journal editor and supported by medical librarians, who help stakeholders access information resources from such sources as the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to encourage evidence-based medical practices and policies, accuracy in journalism, and general health literacy.
- A regular series of national forums and workshops is developed, a moderated listserv and blog put in place, along with various working groups comprising a mix of different stakeholders. The working groups address issues such as professional development, professional standards, advocacy for open data, public service announcements, combating rumours and misinformation, and promoting local research to the lay public and to those who determine national funding priorities.
The network’s objectives:
- Creates a digital platform to facilitate its work. This includes an active website and online resources mobilized for members and others, as well as a listserve with a moderator.
- Communicates the best research-based evidence: develop and disseminate research and policy briefs; collaborate with research institutions/researchers; create research dissemination forums; set up a repository of ongoing research; collaborate with national councils for science and technology, ClinicalTrials.gov, the World Health Organization and others; provide resources suitable for local journalists and other health communicators; engage with health librarians to source the best information; establish direct connections with editors of health journals and other literature; provide an avenue for two-way communication with the diaspora; advocate for the development and sharing of health information in the country.
- Provides information support in emergencies: develop a support mechanism that would provide timely and high-quality information in emergencies; establish links with sources of information support that can be called upon in emergencies.
- Trains relevant groups: train groups involved in research, policy development and implementation, health communication, library work and knowledge brokerage (i.e., policy makers, journalists, researchers and librarians).
- Influences policy: issue policy briefs and press releases; host policy dialogues; create policy to research and research to policy initiatives.
- Establishes a sustainable governance and resource mobilization model
At the core of the project are the journals in the African Journal Partnership Program (AJPP). The NLM is working with ten African medical journals in ten countries: DR Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia. The programme involves partnerships between US/UK and African journals. The US/UK journals include: Annals of Internal Medicine, BMJ, Environmental Health Perspectives, JAMA, The Lancet, and NEJM. Established African journals become mentors to new journals in South-South relationships.NLM now seeks to extend the reach of each of these journals to a broader constituency that includes the lay public, newspaper and broadcast journalists, and policymakers.
We have been piloting the Ugandan National Health Communications Network, and will expand to Ethiopia and other countries before the end of 2021.