Project Expands NLM Health Outreach in Africa

Julia Royall, chief of international programs at NLM and a 2007-2008 Fulbright Scholar in Uganda, has been living and working in Uganda engaged in a project that seeks to improve the health of Africans through targeted “health information interventions.”

After joining NLM in 1997, Royall helped to create a telecommunications network that supports scientists working in Africa on malaria. Her current research seeks to demonstrate how information can be targeted to improve health awareness among underserved populations in Africa.

During her Fulbright year, she has taught Ugandan librarians to train medical students how to search NLM databases. She also has worked with a team of medical students, faculty and artists of the Medical Faculty, Makerere University, in Kampala, to develop the first MedlinePlus Tutorial on malaria in Africa.

“My Makerere University teammates took the lead in designing and distributing booklets, posters and audio CDs for radio broadcast throughout the region,” said Royall, describing her work to a rapt Lister Hill Auditorium audience in February.

The tutorial was tested in villages in eastern Uganda by the students and translated into three local languages: Luganda, Rukiga and Luo.

Royall noted that future research for African modules will cover diarrhea, addiction and nutrition. Uganda, a landlocked country in East Africa, is a challenging place to spread the word on malaria. The country suffers from frequent power outages, often impassable roads, a 70 percent literacy rate, and belief in local healers sometimes to the exclusion of medical science.

The tutorial continues NLM’s longstanding commitment to improving health in Africa, where malaria continues to ravage Uganda and other sub-Saharan countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that each year there are as many as 500 million new cases of malaria, and that more than 1 million people die, with 90 percent of the deaths occurring in sub-Sahara. The majority of victims are women and children under the age of five.