Does the coronavirus outbreak highlight the importance of timely access to quality health information? What role can HIFA & its members play? (2)

12 February, 2020

Dear Julie,

Thank you for your thoughts. You asked: "What are your views? Have I left anything out? What has been your experience? What role can HIFA play?"

You are right to highlight the information needs of different user groups: Clinicians/healthcare workers; Researchers; The public; Healthcare information providers. I would just add the information needs of policymakers as an important group to include.

I think the example of coronavirus highlights the importance of timely access to quality health information more broadly. The WHO Director General Dr Tedros has stated: "People must have access to accurate information to protect themselves and others." This echoes the HIFA vision: 'A world where every person will have access to the healthcare information they need to protect their own health and the health of those for whom they are responsible'.

"What role can HIFA play?" The exchange of ideas and experience on HIFA in the past few weeks has been impressive, thanks to all. I'm sorry we have not yet heard from our colleagues in China, which continues to be underrepresented on HIFA (we have just 34 members in China, as compared with 1585 in Nigeria and 1382 in the US).

In general, HIFA's primary role is to raise awareness of the healthcare information needs of people worldwide, especially in LMICs where the needs are greatest, and to explore ways to improve the availability and use of information. As we have seen with Ebola, lots of issues relating to healthcare information are emerging in relation to coronavirus, including misinformation, transparency, trust... As I mentioned in a recent post, HIFA and WHO are already working together closely to improve the availability and use of healthcare information, including in different languages (HIFA-French, -Portuguese, -Spanish). There is a lot more we could be doing, although we are limited by our capacity (one professional staff).

If we can identify low-level funding ($6k), HIFA would be ready to start a specific new HIFA project on the information needs of people (public; health workers; researchers; policymakers) in infectious disease outbreaks. This could coordinate with other related HIFA projects such as our HIFA Multilingualism and HIFA Access to Health Research projects ( ).

When we ask "What role can HIFA play?" we need to think also in terms of "What role can each of us, as representatives of health organisations, play?" HIFA can help as a platform for sharing and making connections. It can even sometimes help with dissemination of information. But it is the actions of the 3,000 organisations represented on HIFA (not to mention those who have not yet heard of us) that will individually and collectively make the difference.

Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: