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Funding books for life

The BMA Information Fund allows doctors, medical students and healthcare organisations in developing countries access to educational resources that they would never be able to afford otherwise

Books can mean the difference between life and death for people in developing countries. Tens of thousands of people die every day because their healthcare workers and loved ones lack the information to make appropriate decisions about their care, say campaigners for better health resources.

The BMA Information Fund which has just opened for applications, aims to help to increase the resources available to such communities.

Run by the BMA international department, the fund provides health information and educational materials to health-focused organisations in developing countries.

The BMA is also a supporter of HIFA 2015 (Healthcare Information for All by 2015), the aim of which is to ensure everyone worldwide has access to an informed healthcare provider by 2015.

'We know that thousands of people die needlessly every day, often because health workers do not know what to do or where to seek help'

BMA international committee chair Terry John says: ‘Working with HIFA 2015, we know that thousands of people die needlessly every day, often because health workers do not know what to do or where to seek help. With a modest budget, the BMA Information Fund helps to stop this shocking waste of life by putting accurate health information into the hands of healthcare providers — proving that a little goes a very long way.'

Paper trail

The beneficiaries of last year’s round include the Health Manpower Development Centre in Mbale, eastern Uganda. It is run by the country’s Ministry of Health, and is responsible for healthcare workers’ training needs.

It received books and educational material, which are now used by a wide variety of staff and students, including those of regional hospitals, district health centres, and hygiene and nursing schools. They are also used by distance learners.

The materials are kept in the library of the development centre, and are used by around 20 people each day.

Faustine Maiso, a Ugandan doctor who has worked for the World Health Organisation and the Uganda Human Rights Commission, made the centre’s application to the fund. He is very grateful for the fund’s support.

‘The materials we received were up to date and relevant for training and educational development of health workers in Uganda,’ he says. ‘They are written in simple English, which is easy to understand. The CDs are more relevant to our department of training.

‘However, we have faced some challenges, especially in rationing the books. It is difficult for books to be lent out, [especially] to health training officers in nearby institutions.’

'The materials we received were up to date and relevant for training and educational development of health workers in Uganda'Dr Maiso says the more useful resources are those on managing complications in pregnancy and childbirth, public health, and diagnosis and treatment. The materials were so helpful to healthcare work in Uganda, that he has requested some more.

Self-discovery

Books from last year’s fund were also donated to PFP (Peace Foundation Pakistan).

The organisation works in sexual and reproductive health rights and advocacy, and is using the up-to-date information from the books in seminars, workshops and meetings. Books on first aid have also been popular with students at the local high school.

Farzana Qamar, a counsellor with the foundation’s safe medical abortion project, says illiterate women have learned more about their bodies and health through the illustrated books donated by the fund.

PFP director Zarina Balaoch adds that the books on pharmacy and first aid have been useful for health workers in rural areas, where there are few doctors or pharmacists.

Ms Balaoch says: ‘People rely on folk medicines [in rural areas]. Sometimes they become victims of more dangerous diseases. Where There Are No Pharmacists is a good book … for all health workers.’

A book on making health services more women-friendly is to be translated into Sindhi to allow more people to benefit from it.

Beneficiaries of the fund are asked to write feedback reports for the BMA.

PFP says it needs to be updated on medical services and developments — a common reason for the resources being so welcome.

‘We have limited resources, so we could not buy books and journals of international standards,’ it says. ‘There are so many … informative and useful websites, but they [demand] money. It is very difficult for a medium-sized non-governmental organisation to meet expenses. We found [the BMA] a supportive organisation for this purpose.’

WHO shows the way

HIFA 2015 was launched in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2006. It evolved from a review commissioned by the WHO, which examined the challenges faced by developing countries in accessing reliable healthcare information.

HIFA coordinator Neil Pakenham-Walsh had previously set up the Health Information Forum, which regularly met at the BMA to discuss issues around the availability and use of health information.

The BMA has provided funding to HIFA 2015 since 2008, and is a member of its international steering group. BMA members can contribute their ideas and expertise to HIFA by joining its email list.

Information fund facts

The BMA Information Fund, established in 2005, provides books, DVDs, CDs and articles to healthcare-related organisations.

The BMA international department runs the fund in association with the charity Teaching Aids at Low Cost and it is publicised via the HIFA email list and other global healthcare networks.

Applications are open to healthcare institutions, medical schools, libraries and health-focused non-governmental organisations and similar organisations. Applicants are able to select books and other resources from a list, but are advised to read the guide before doing so.

Applications close at 5pm UK time on August 31, or once a cap of 100 applications has been reached.