Healthcare Information For All

Tuesday, 7 November 2017


Neil Pakenham-Walsh, Coordinator, Health Information For All (HIFA) discusses patient empowerment through knowledge.

Patients, health workers and everyone who in one way or another is a stakeholder in the health sector need access to timely, reliable healthcare information to maintain the highest possible level of health for ourselves and others. For most people in low- and middle-income countries their right to such information is denied.

Access to practical healthcare information is fundamental to every patient's ability to take appropriate decisions and actions regarding whether and how they adopt healthy behaviours, how they prevent and manage illness and injury, when and where to seek help, and how to participate in shared decision-making with their healthcare provider.

However, for most people in low- and middle-income countries their right to such information is limited. For example, patients are typically given medicines loose without any instructions, or packaged with instructions they cannot understand. Patients with chronic illness are given little if any guidance, leading to avoidable suffering or premature death.

Furthermore, health workers also are inadequately informed. Studies from the Human Resources for health suggest a gross lack of knowledge about the basics on how to diagnose and manage common diseases, going right across the health workforce and often associated with suboptimal, ineffective and dangerous health care practices [indicating] that modern medicine, even at a basic level, has largely failed the majority of the world's population.

In other words, patients in low- and middle-income countries continue to suffer because they and/or their healthcare providers lack access to relevant, reliable healthcare information.

HIFA is a growing global health community interacting on five discussion forums in 3 languages (English, French, Portuguese - Spanish to be launched in January 2018). We work closely with the World Health Organization to improve quality of care through better availability and use of healthcare information. We are supported by more than 300 health and development organisations worldwide and we have a network of more than 250 volunteers. We are currently funded by the British Medical Organisation and 40 other health organisations.

Our work with the New York Law School demonstrates that governments have a legal obligation under International Human Rights Law to progressively meet the healthcare information needs of all citizens (patients) and we continue to advocate for this.

Join a global health community of more than 17,000 health professionals, publishers, librarians, policymakers and patients working for a world where every person has access to the information they need to protect their own health and the health of others. You can join here for free: