Social media – a tool to strengthen health systems and research collaboration in developing countries?

Having worked with public health issues in developing countries and even specifically with health systems, I just had to share this article, which I came across yesterday.

Use Social Media to Strengthen Health Systems by Alexander E. T. Finlayson, Katherine E.M. Hudson and Faisal R. Ali draws attention to the huge potential for researchers in developing countries to communicate and cooperate through social media.

Building research capacity in developing countries has been and still is a challenge and perhaps something that has been neglected. According to the authors strengthening research capacity is however increasingly becoming an aim in itself in efforts to improve health systems in developing countries. And one way to do that could be to take advantage of the possibilities in social media. In Nature Alexander E. T. Finlayson and his colleagues have recently for example argued for the use of Twitter to enhance collaboration between researchers in developing countries.

In general the authors draw attention to the mobile-phone revolution, which has taken place in developing countries, and literally bypassed fixed-line telephone and internet connections. Taking off from this revolution provides an opportunity to think creatively in terms of establishing collaboration not only between researchers but also in providing public health services to the people.

As is pointed out both in the article and in some of the comments on the article, social media will not be a magic fix and there are lots of challenges to take into account, but its potential in contributing to improving health systems as well as other public health issues in developing countries should not be disregarded.

Encouraging you to read the full article, here are however a few passages from the article, I find interesting

On the mobile revolution:

“With more than five billion subscriptions, mobile phones are now indispensable across the world. Mobile technology promises to transform global healthcare, especially in remote areas, by enabling direct interaction with patients, helping remote training of healthcare workers, and supporting the education of scientists.”

“… just as many African countries have bypassed fixed telephone lines to embrace mobile-phone networks, so healthcare systems can skip having paper records.It is highly likely that scientists in countries with limited resources will follow this pattern, perhaps bypassing traditional, and at times ineffective, research methodologies for more progressive approaches — including the use of social media — to addressing local priorities for biomedical research.”

On crowdsourcing:

“Unnecessary duplication of research is widespread in Western science, and competition for funds and publications risks breeding a culture of secrecy between scientists eager to protect their ideas. This is potentially problematic. But in developing countries, where resources are scarcer and research results are more critical to saving human lives, there should be even greater demand for a streamlined model of scientific cooperation.”

On the use of Twitter:

“… by leveraging the global nature of media such as Twitter, with a large audience and well-defined interest groups, individual scientists could find local collaborators working on similar problems with greater experience in specific areas of their work. By eliminating reams of redundancy from the scientific process, scientists in developing countries may be able to conduct research that is faster, better targeted to real problems, and has less duplication. And in the end, they could disseminate their results more efficiently.”