#eahil2017 #icmldub Global and Disaster Health Special Interest Group 1/2

On Thursday at EAHIL there was the launch of a new special interest group – Knowledge management in global & disaster health. For the last 6 months or so I’ve been doing voluntary work for Evidence Aid (more on this in the next post) so I went along.

The session was led by Anne Brice of Public Health England (@annebriceuk) with presentations by Claire Allen of Evidence Aid (@evidenceaid); Neil Pakenham-Walsh of HIFA (@hifa_org), Dr Caroline de Brun of PHE (@debrun), and Prof Maria Musoke giving a perspective from Sub-Saharan Africa & IFLA.

All the slides presented are available, and I’ve storified the tweets from the meeting, but here’s my slightly more considered version of events.


Claire started with an overview of the origins of Evidence Aid. After the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 a government funded psychiatrist responded to a Cochrane offer of help. The group was able to provide evidence of the unproven benefits or even potentially harmful effects of brief debriefings for survivors. Feeding this back to the government meant that funds and resources could be deployed elsewhere.

They have continued this work to support better use of resources (both money and manpower), and achieved registered charity status in 2015.

The aim of Evidence Aid is: To create and satisfy an increasing demand for evidence to improve the impact of humanitarian aid by stimulating the use of an evidence-based approach.

The work they do depends heavily on the work of volunteers, with librarians particularly involved in searching for, summarising and synthesising evidence. They also advocate free access to pay per view systematic reviews. If you’re interested in the story of my connection with Evidence Aid, please see below.


Neil then talked about an organisation I’m sorry to say I was unware till now: “Health Information For All”.  But even as Neil was speaking, I signed up to HIFA– which will mean that I can take part in conversations with their 16,000 members in 175 countries, across 5 forums.

It’s not just about ensuring that aid workers, and their organisations are working with the best evidence. Everyone deserves to have access to and the skills to appraise (health) information. Without supporting and enabling these 2 things, we deny them a basic human right of informed choice and further burden the healthcare systems by only minimal (or even harmful) self-care being possible. As Neil said “people are dying from lack of knowledge”. And indeed one of the WHO Universal Health Coverage goals specifically mentions information: skills, equipment, INFORMATION, structural support, medicine, incentives, communication

Amongst the wide range of projects in they are working in: with healthcare professionals, with citizens, with healthcare policy makers, around mobile healthcare information, they also have one with library and information services. This last project is around supporting local LKS to support their local healthcare professionals, citizens and policy makers. They also want to explore the role of LKS in global and disaster health.


This last point led to Caroline speaking about the brief review she carried out on the role of librarians in providing support to disaster management teams and the general public during times of crisis. (NB this is not about librarians coping with their own disasters – eg how to cope with a flood and its effects on a collection, or even worse, the circumstances that the Syrian librarians are enduring).

This was about (amongst other things)

  • how public libraries in particular can be a community hub during times of crisis, acting as a meeting point, communication channel and even performing such basic functions as being a charging station or internet connection point.
  • new roles which being created, such as Global Health Informationist, or Disaster Information Specialist (like we needed more job titles! 🙂 )
  • how effective knowledge management can link members of the same organisation who are unknowingly working on the same topic (how many times does that happen?);
  • how our existing skills we can support information dissemination using social media; and
  • how we are already working to reduce the digital divide which is so glaring at the best of times, and which is only exacerbated in crisis situations.

A clinician in the audience who had worked in disaster zones raised the very specific point that access to evidence was important, but putting it into a local context was critical: it’s all very well know that water can wash a wound as effectively as saline (so cheaper) but if the water supply is contaminated then it’s appropriate to ignore that evidence. Or that the logistics of transport severely restrict access to the saline to begin with. This is also an area that Evidence Aid will be expanding into – getting right information for the specific context and environment that the aid workers are facing on the ground.

Caroline’s full briefing is available and I would recommend it.

Maria then spoke about her personal perspective, as a librarian, indeed as a professor of information science, living and working in Uganda, and from her association with AHILA and IFLA. Maria was one of the founder members of AHILA in Nairobi in 1984.

The challenges facing librarians in sub-Saharan Africa actually resonate very much with me as a European librarian: that the provision of information is increasingly complex, and that there is increasingly disparity between info-rich and info-poor owing to variations in access to the internet. That Maria and her colleagues have a significant and active role to play during epidemics and natural disasters on their doorstep is only where the difference becomes clear owing the lucky distance I enjoy from most of the health disasters that I might be accessing information about. What Maria does is to use “Knowledge to transform the resources we have into things we need”.

She’s got a new book out “Informed and Healthy: Theoretical and Applied Perspectives on the Value of Information to Health Care”  (which had a high profile launch), which is already winging it’s way from Amazon.

In terms of next steps, from the SIG’s perspective, its:

  • HIFA LIS Project working group meeting is on 27 June at 10am, via Skype
  • Thematic discussion on the role of libraries in times of crisis, to take place on the HIFA Forum
  • Meeting about setting up an IFLA Special Interest Group on knowledge management in global and disaster health taking place on Monday 21st August in Poland during IFLA.

In the meantime, a date for your diary: November 6-12th: Humanitarian Evidence Week.


2 Responses to #eahil2017 #icmldub Global and Disaster Health Special Interest Group 1/2

  1. […] Global and Disaster Health Special Interest Group 1/2 by Isla Kuhn @ilk21 […]

  2. […] 3 posts about the EAHIL conference: once about the workshop that I helped deliver, one about a special interest group on global and disaster health that had its inaugural meeting, and an associated post about the volunteering that I do for […]

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