Tuesday, August 17, 2021

#WLIC2021 Access to health information as a human right

From today until Thursday I will be attending some sessions of the IFLA World Library and Information Congress, which this year takes place online. I will liveblog a few sessions. It is a truly international conference and each day is scheduled to fit with a different time zone: the first in a European/ South African time zone, the second in an American time zone and the third day in the Asia-Pacific time zone. This means that I will miss the end of the second day and a lot of the third day, but I really think it is an equitable way of approaching timing.

The first session I'll blog is on Access to health information as a human right: A global call to action and practical steps.
Neil Pakenham-Walsh
(coordinator of the HIFA global health movement, Healthcare Information For All) identified that "Misinformation is a symptom not the disease" with the problem being the dysfunction of the global healthcare information system - this is an important point that I think isn't tackled often enough in anti-misinformation campaigns. He said that "We cannot tackle misinformation unless we improve the availability of reliable healthcare information". There is a need for high level commitment. Pakenham-Walsh pointed out that medical profession is already supportive internationally (a participant posted a BMJ editorial on WMA Statement: https://www.bmj.com/content/368/bmj.m759.full), and it is the governments that are "far behind" even though under international human rights agreements they have an obligation to provide healthcare information. Pakenham-Walsh said that one of the most shocking aspects of the COVOD19 pandemic has been heads of states themselves spreading misinformation.
Margaret Zimmerman (School of Information at Florida State University) continued the theme of health information as a human right, highlighting differences in the way in which governments have, or have not, spread accurate health information about the pandemic. Thus it is also a violation of human rights to ignore or obscure quality health information. However there have been proclamations from governments or heads of state which promote misinformation or hinder the spread of quality information. Zimmerman called for library and information professionals to act to make a difference in this area, advocating and working for health information, and supporting development of health literacy inside and outside the library.
Ola El Zein
(Director of the Medical Library and lecturer at the American University of Beirut) talked about Building a public resource centre for credible information, referring to the COVID-19 resource center. El Zein again emphasised library and information professionals' obligation and role to work for the application of the human right to quality healthcare. Immediate practical action can include creating reliable resources & training others and advocacy can involve bringing together stakeholders: El Zein gave examples of how she has engaged with both these aspects, drawing on her expertise and position.
Finally Blessing Mawire (Knowledge and Information management specialist based in Pretoria, South Africa) talked about Adaptation of Information Professionals in the evolving global health needs, identifying some of the skills required e.g. packaging the results of systematic reviews for different groups of people, including those in different communities. Mawire talked about both technology skills and people skills (including emotional intelligence and collaboration). She again talked about advocacy skills, for example writing persuasive policy papers, as well as technical writing skills.
After the presentations there was a question session in Zoom, and a few points that came out were: the importance of librarians understanding what constituted good research (as that supports understanding and promotion of good health information) and the need for advocacy skills; the need for a global action plan for health information (e.g. like the WHO's Global Patient Safety action plan) - this needs political commitment. The role of librarians in bringing people to the discussion table (not just being at the table) was stressed. The folllowing link was also posted in chat, to a multicultural health website https://www.mhcs.health.nsw.gov.au/
A summary of this session and responses to other questions will be added to the IFLA E4GDH pages.

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