Online evidence-based information: narrowing the knowledge gap in the African Region

The knowledge gap presents a challenge to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and other agreed targets in the African Region.

Despite the progress made in recent years in several countries, access to health information is difficult in the Region. Many university libraries suffer from a shortage of medical books and journals, lack of up-to-date medical and health information, as well as budget and human resources constraints. Health professionals who wish to keep up to date have access to scant resources in health centres or hospitals.
WHO has been working for a long time to address this problem. Projects like HINARI, which enables low and middle-income countries to gain access to one of the world's largest collections of biomedical and health literature, or the Blue Trunk Libraries, which aim to provide health districts in Africa with a collection of books and practical manuals on medicine and public health, are examples of the efforts made in this area.



The promise of the online world
With the availability of information and communication technologies and the internet, new ways to disseminate medical and health information that reaches far beyond academic and university circles are becoming more and more accessible.
Even though the internet penetration rate in Africa is low when compared to the rest of the world, the number of internet users, especially through mobile device, is growing fast according to the International Telecommunication Union.

Besides the availability, quality and use of health information, research evidence and knowledge is another key challenge in the African Region. As pointed out by some authors, this has resulted in two major types of knowledge gaps: gaps in health knowledge, and the so-called “know-do gap”, which are behind most health inequities in the world.

This means essential answers on how to improve the health of the people in the African Region are missing, and there is also the failure to apply all existing knowledge to improve people's health. Narrowing these gaps through effective and efficient application of existing knowledge and the generation of new relevant knowledge will contribute to improving health outcomes in the Region.

The African Health Observatory
The AHO is a web-based platform launched to help bridge these gaps in the Region by improving the availability of relevant and timely evidence based health information.
The AHO serves four functions: storage and sharing of data and statistics; production and sharing of evidence through the analysis and synthesis of information; sustaining networks and communities for better translation of evidence; and supporting countries in the establishment of national or sub-national health observatories.
The AHO data and statistics platform; the extensive country health profiles for each of the 47 Member States of the Region; the Atlas of African Health Statistics and other publications of the observatory are some of the tools designed to assist policy and decision making.



Documents and tools
Improving the availability, quality and use of health information, research evidence and knowledge to strengthen health systems, The African Health Monitor, issue 12

Data quality and information use: A systematic review to improve evidence, Ethiopia, The African Health Monitor, issue 14

The background to the Algiers Declaration and the framework for its implementation to improve health systems, The African Health Monitor, issue 12

The Ouagadougou Declaration on Primary Health Care and Health Systems in Africa: Achieving better health for Africa in the new millennium, The African Health Monitor, issue 12

The African Health Observatory: Opportunity for strengthening health information systems through national health observatories (Document AFR/RC62/13)
Regional Office for Africa Library and Documentation Centre
Regional Office for Africa library databases
Global Health Library
IRIS: WHO's Institutional Repository for Information Sharing
ePORTUGUÊSe Virtual Health Library (in Portuguese)
Other digital health libraries
Blue Trunk Libraries in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Blue Trunk Libraries in Guinea

The African Health Monitor
The Monitor is a quarterly magazine of the WHO Regional Office for Africa with peer reviewed articles in English, French and Portuguese.

Bulletin of the World Health Organization
The Bulletin is one of the world's leading public health journals. It is a peer reviewed monthly publication with a special focus on developing countries.

The Weekly Epidemiological Record
The Weekly Epidemiological Record serves as an essential instrument for the rapid and accurate dissemination of epidemiological information on cases and outbreaks of diseases under the International Health Regulations and on other communicable diseases of public health importance, including emerging or re-emerging infections. An electronic bilingual English/French version is accessible every Friday and can be downloaded free of charge.

WHO Drug Information
WHO Drug Information is a quarterly journal providing an overview of topics relating to medicines development and regulation which is targeted to a wide audience of health professionals and policy makers.

Figures: Atlas of African Health Statistics 2014

*Not included: Algeria, Angola, Sierra Leone, South Africa and South Sudan