This is the full text of U.S. Ambassador Johnnie Carson's speech at the dedication ceremony.
I'm delighted to be here today for the opening of this Health Information Centre at the College of Medical Sciences of the University of Nairobi. I want to congratulate the staff of the WiRED project, Professor Gary Selnow and Pauline Karani, for their hard work in setting up this center, and I especially want to thank Professor Makawati, the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, for the support and guidance given to this project.
It is sometimes said that more information has been developed in the last 20 years than in the preceding 2000 years. Some people even assert that we have a doubling of information every three years. There is no field where the explosion of information has been as great is in the field of medicine. Doctors who went to medical school 25 or 30 years ago find that much of what they learned has been overtaken by new discoveries and findings.
As a result of this information explosion, it is extremely important for medical students and their faculty to have access to the most up-to-date research findings and new information in their fields. This computer center, with its CD library and internet access, will enable the future doctors, nurses, and dentists of Kenya to be as well informed as their counterparts in the rest of the world.
WiRED has already been providing similar services to doctors and health workers in their five centers in other parts of the country. Their evaluation research found that 95% of health professionals who came to the centers said that they got at least 50% of their medical information from the Community Health Information Center. About half of these health workers said that they got about 75% of their medical information from the center. This shows not only the need that exists for up to date medical information, but also the important role that this project and these centers can have in keeping medical workers informed.
I've also been pleased to learn that there are interactive programs to give information about HIV prevention. I hope that the medical students who come to this center take advantage of these programs for their own benefit as well as for their patients. In many countries in Africa, including Kenya, doctors, nurses, and other health workers are dying of AIDS at the same rate as their fellow citizens who are not health workers, and in some cases, their death rate is even higher. Although there are some cases of health workers acquiring HIV through occupational exposure, most research evidence suggests that it is their personal behavior which puts health workers at risk of HIV infection. It is a personal, family, and national tragedy when a young health worker dies of a preventable disease. Kenya needs all of their health workers to remain healthy and able to care for their fellow citizens. So I challenge all the medical, nursing, and dental students to use the resources of this center, not only to advance your professional knowledge, but also to acquire knowledge and skills to help you avoid getting infected with HIV, and to serve as an example to others.
One of the HIV prevention programs which I have supported actively for more than 10 years is voluntary counseling and HIV testing, or VCT. I had the privilege of opening the second VCT center in Uganda in 1992. The slogan of this VCT program in Uganda is: "Knowledge is Power." In the case of VCT, the slogan refers to the power that is gained by learning new information about HIV and especially learning one's HIV status. I think this slogan can also be applied to this center, as the knowledge gained by medical students will make them more effective and powerful health workers. This knowledge will also empower them to avoid risky behavior both on and off the job.
My wife Anne is a librarian, and she recently had the opportunity to visit the WiRED Community Health Information Center in Kisumu. She was very impressed with what she saw, both in terms of the service of the center to health workers and to the general community. She observed a group of young students learning from the interactive HIV prevention program. I am informed that this center here at the University of Nairobi will be linked to the other WiRED centers in Kenya, including the one Anne visited in Kisumu. I hope that this will encourage exchange of information between Nairobi based health professionals and their counterparts in other regions of the country. Especially in the field of AIDS, it is imperative that the information and services available to health workers and citizens in Nairobi become available to all Kenyans.
An unusual feature of this project is that the first five centers were established outside of Nairobi, as most new innovations are first introduced in Nairobi and then eventually become available elsewhere. I want to thank WiRED for understanding the importance of making sure that people in other parts of the country have access to these centers as well, and I'm very pleased to learn that WiRED now intends to open additional centers in other parts of the country.
In conclusion, I want to say something about this center in relation to our two nations. First, it seems that the image of the US often focuses on our military and economic power. This center, and the WiRED program in general, is a demonstration of another type of power—the power of knowledge and information. I'm proud that the US is a world leader in the area of information and knowledge power—and I'm delighted that WiRED is helping in the effort to share this with the people of Kenya. In the long run, this form of empowerment, the sharing of the power of information, is more important than any other form of power in the 21st century.
Secondly, I also want to applaud Kenya for the recent election. The openness that characterized the election, and the openness being demonstrated by the new administration, is a very positive model for other African nations. In the same way, this center, and the Community Health Information Centers that will be spreading throughout Kenya, can also serve as a model for other countries. We have already received requests from a team in Zimbabwe who wish to open similar centers, and want to learn from the Kenya experience. So there is an opportunity for Kenya to provide regional leadership in the expansion of this very important project to extend access to computer based learning in the health field.
Once again, let me congratulate everyone who has worked hard to make the opening of this center a success. Allow me to thank you in advance for your continued work and commitment to making this center an effective and powerful resource for the students of the University of Nairobi College of Health Sciences.
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