Blue Trunk Libraries
Face to face with reality in Africa
The training sessions in the countries have provided a first opportunity to determine how appropriate the project is to the health information situation in francophone Africa. An initial and reassuring finding was that the project satisfied a genuine need and that it was particularly well received by the personnel of district health centres. WHO manuals do not always get as far as the peripheral health centres.
The use of a transportable trunk to present the collection turned out to be a good choice, as the trunks have arrived in the districts in good condition.
One of them even stood up to a trip round Guinea in the boot of a vehicle, with a halt in each district for a demonstration. In some countries, the question why we had chosen a "bridal trunk" was asked. The comments on the choice of publications frequently focused on the need to add a number of more "clinical" works to the collection. In all the countries in which the training was provided, the Blue Trunk Library assistants (BTL) were highly motivated by their future role and saw the Blue Trunk Library as a valuable means of promoting health in their district. Ways of developing messages on prevention and health promotion and of getting them across to the community always gave rise to animated debates where both presentations and discussions of a particular work were suggested as well as relying on traditional storytellers to educate the population.
The constraints too have become apparent and tangible: the same factors that are already responsible for the chronic shortage of information, are even more acute away from the major towns. Health centres operate on a shoestring, their staff are few in number and overworked, means of communication whether postal, by telephone or road are often unreliable and expensive; photocopiers are a rarity.
Although there is a demand for Blue Trunk Libraries from the health centres, there is no provision to pay the BTL assistants more, if only to recompense their new activities. Although the national coordinators are appointed by the Ministries of Health of the countries concerned, the authorities provide them with no resources. Therefore the visits to the Blue Trunk Library sites are made possible by the logistical support provided by the Office of the WHO Representative.