Introduction: who needs information?

Health, rehabilitation and community workers, educators, researchers, policy makers, managers, local communities and self-help groups all need information.

Information is especially important for training health workers. There is plenty of evidence that access to the right information at the right time can mean the difference between life and death. Former executive director of UNICEF, James Grant, estimated that getting medical and health knowledge to those who needed it, and applying it, could have prevented 34 million deaths each year in the late 1980s.

Health sector reforms, changing disease patterns, and advances in technology make it vitally important that everyone involved in health care and promotion has access to relevant information - not only during their initial training, but throughout their working lives, to enable them to keep up-to-date and develop their skills.

Health workers and educators need basic data on the disease profiles of the local area, the latest techniques in diagnosis and treatment, how to communicate with patients, how to work with other sectors such as education or environment, ideas on how to undertake health promotion, and, increasingly, good information about how to run a health centre or a small health post.

Health, community and rehabilitation workers may need to gain a better understanding of the needs and rights of disabled people, and learn how to support disabled people to lead as full a life as possible.

Researchers need factual information on the area they are researching, and they need to know what research is being carried out, or has been completed and the results, to ensure that they are not duplicating any work.

Policy makers and managers need information on epidemiology, population size and characteristics, finances, staffing needs and facilities. They also need information on disadvantaged groups, the work of other sectors that contribute to health, and structures that promote community involvement.

Local communities and self-help groups need to learn how to participate in planning, implementing and evaluating programmes, promote healthy living and prevent disease, campaign for better services, promote their own services, and learn about their rights.