HIFA2015: to achieve goals – more support is required

“Our shared vision is a world where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare knowledge.” Statement on HIFA2015 website.

HIFA2015 (Healthcare Information for All by 2015) is a global network of more than 10,000 members which aims to improve the availability of lifesaving information in developing nations. Based in the United Kingdom, HIFA2015 is now supported across 167 countries by at least 2,000 separate organisations. These include the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Midwives and Publication Integrity & Ethics (PIE).

The aim is to stop thousands of people dying each day for want of simple, low-cost interventions. HIFA2015 not only recognises the need to provide professionals with improved information – it also promotes the value of educating anyone who provides basic care. Campaigners behind the organisation believe that access to relevant, reliable and user-friendly health information is vital in meeting both the World Health Organisation’s goal of ‘Health For All’ and the United Nation’s ‘Millennium Development Goals’.

Are these goals achievable? Will every mother, care worker and doctor of the worlds’ poorest countries really have access to sufficient information?

According to several key figures in the medical world, the answer is yes. These people include BMJ editor Fiona Goodlee who wrote an essay calling for universal healthcare information in 2004 and partly inspired the foundation of the group. This is only possible, however, if more support is gained and adequate funding is secured.

The good work that HIFA2015 promotes can already be seen taking immediate effect with the start-up of several other organisations. Just one example of this is Doctoori. This UK-based organisation focuses on the development of the healthcare sector in the Arab nations with online content provided by the NHS. “HIFA has been a massive inspiration in founding www.doctoori.net. It has reinforced the need to bring high quality, reliable and accessible health information into the Arabic language,” said Dr Zain Sikafi, CEO and Founder of Doctoori.

As a proud supporter of HIFA2015, the Publication Integrity & Ethics believes that the organisation needs a much stronger backing if it is to achieve its lifesaving ambitions. The HIFA strategy can only succeed in improving global healthcare knowledge in 2015 and beyond if the message is spread on a mass scale.

Just one of the statements on the HIFA2015 website states that 7 out of 10 African children with malaria receive mismanaged treatment. That is 2,000 young lives lost each day in Africa alone. HIFA2015’s mission is not only important, it is urgent.

Educating women in the third world: what is the socio-economic impact?

Educating women is purported to be one of the most valuable investments a developing country can make. Research has found that nations that educate girls to the same degree as boys benefit from longer life expectancies, lower birth rates and higher economic growth. Evidence also shows that educating girls reduces child malnutrition rates and lowers the risk of HIV infection. So, if educating women is such a good idea, what is holding the third world back?

One of the most obvious reasons is financial constraint. For many families it is still a priority to educate boys; they see the son as the main future breadwinner who will therefore support his parents in their old age. The extra cost of educating females is not seen as necessary because a daughter will eventually be financially supported by her husband. In addition, with unemployment rates so high, wouldn’t educating girls bring more competitors to the employment sectors and only make conditions worse?

Other issues which limit education for women are cultural constraints. The lack of employment opportunities for women in developing countries, often stemming from social and religious traditions, devalues the need for equal education.

This point is highlighted by UNICEF’s (United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund) Damien Personnaz: “There are a lot of religious leaders who do not think that to send a girl to school is a big priority. This is actually the most difficult barrier to overcome, but we’ve been doing so in working with the communities involved in many countries in South Asia, in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.”

Government oppression is another factor. During the Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, almost half of the nations’ schools were destroyed; under the regime, females were completely banned from academic study.

With so many obstacles to overcome, can anything be done to improve the situation?

It could be argued that foreign assistance might help. For an example, in Afghanistan, since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, the UN (United Nations) and other groups have invested in opening education facilities such as the Women’s ICT Centres. The number of girls attending school has increased by over 30% since 2001, and literacy levels have greatly improved.  The ability to read and write has given many more women the chance to vote under the nation’s new political rights.

Educating girls creates educated mothers and has a huge socio-economic impact. Women will pass on knowledge, and a greater financial freedom, to their children. It is a cycle built for prosperity, but can only function if enough employment is available for the newly educated work-force. Women who are educated can not only help build a stronger economy, they are able to better protect themselves from disease, sexual exploitation and gender-based violence. For a country to prosper in the modern world, both men and women must break from the tradition which states ‘girls belong at home’.

Student numbers soar – and staff levels fall

University students should feel confident that lecturers can provide the support they need throughout their academic study at the institution. Is this crucial aspect of higher education being compromised?

Whilst job cuts are limiting the number of lecturing staff, enrolment figures continue to rise. If a lecturer does not have enough hours in the day to spend time with an ever increasing number of students, the quality of learning will, inevitably, decline.

Perhaps we should first question what exactly tuition fees are being used for. They rose to a staggering £9000 per year in 2012 giving rise to a climate of uncertainty in other areas.

This annual 3 fold increase from £3000 does not appear to have put people off enrolling; but is this a temporary situation? Whilst the demand for a university place has continued to soar each year, it may well tail off rapidly in the future if standards of teaching fall. By then, will it be too late to reverse new strategies, or will it be too expensive or confusing? Or will standards remain low and the world wide historic recognition of British university education enters an irreversible decline while other nations overtake?

It has also highlighted the issue of value for money when considering the staff-student ratio.

Academics must maintain a balance between conducting research and time spent tutoring students. Unfortunately, as universities face a decrease in financial backing, lecturers are coming under increasing pressure to generate private funding from marketable research. This has left some students feeling that they have little or no relationship with the tutors for whose expertise they are paying out so much.

It can be argued that different courses require different levels of contact with lecturers. Arts and humanity students would typically be expected to spend more time reading on their own than someone on a science course for example. Yet all students require a certain amount of face-to-face contact with lecturers to develop their skills. So how can a student’s understanding be thoroughly tested if they are just one in a sea of faces filling the lecture theatre?

Universities owe both the lecturer and the student a system which does not compromise the quality of learning if the institution cannot afford to employ more staff.

If students can get a degree by passively taking notes and rarely speaking to academics, surely we are losing the whole the point of higher education? Universities could, instead, strive to create smaller group tutorials and limit the amount of two-hundred-plus student lectures to an absolute minimum.

Reverting to a more hands-on approach to university tutoring with less staff might be labour intensive, but it is vital that students do not feel that they are on their own. The relationship between lecturer and student should give both parties the opportunity to experiment, debate and discover. It’s not just a case of taking notes.