The National Medical Sciences Information Center’svirtual network (Infomed) was created 25 years ago, to put knowledge on different health issues within everyone’s reach, and seek a language of understanding and socialization, with collaborative and innovative contents.
The website, at www.sld.cu, is a national and international reference in providing information and services for sector professionals. The Infomed project facilitates navigation through its Virtual Library, University and Health Clinic, in turn providing scientific-technical information services to the National Public Health System, and prioritizing its strategies and programs.
Today, the network has more than 300,000 users, Infomed Director DSc Ileana Alfonso Sánchez told Granma International.
“Our workforce consists of 235 workers, a responsible and committed labor collective,” the professor and senior researcher noted, adding that the project arose with the aim to confront the deep crisis experienced at the beginning of the 1990s, in the wake of the tightening of the United States economic and commercial blockade, and the disappearance of the Soviet Union and socialism in Eastern Europe, which affected the ability to provide information services through traditional channels.
”To develop a project like this requires a multidisciplinary team and that is one of our current strengths. There is a National System of Health Sciences Information, which entails Provincial Information Centers and their network of medical libraries, they have at their disposal a network of physical and virtual links throughout the country,” she explained.
Today, other virtual platforms to be installed in the future are being designed, based on global technological developments, the computerization of Cuban society, and knowledge management based on the rapid changes brought about by technological innovation on an international level.
In this regard, Alfonso mentioned providing applications to citizens through different devices (computers, mobile phones or tablets), projects such as the geolocation of the main health institutions and medical services provided within the country, with maps, infographics, and a telephone directory, among other projects.
“Information and communications specialists, editors, engineers, doctors, and other professionals work to maintain this dynamism on the site. This in addition to the multiple medical editors that participate in the portals on different specialties and health issues, those that guarantee quality information and relevance, understood by both academics and the average citizen.”
Since 2015, the Center has been implementing an intensive program for the training of doctors of science, and seven of its staff now hold that title. Another 20 have completed their masters degree studies. The faculty consists of 21 assistant, senior, and consulting professors, in addition to several assistant and senior researchers to undertake future projects.
“We are a nationally subordinated unit of the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP), which accompanies the development of the activities we must undertake,” Alfonso explained regarding the financing of the Center.
The Infomed project has been characterized by the use of information and communication technologies with a social vision, based on the development of local capacities. It was the first national Cuban network to use the GNU/Linux operating system on all its servers, facilitating access to national content and appropriate services to the health system.
The political will and support of the Cuban government, as well as the national and international collaboration received, have been key factors in the creation and development of Infomed. Organizations such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) have contributed significantly in this regard. International solidarity organizations, particularly the InfoMed USA initiative, have also made an important contribution to the project.
As engineer Carlos Manuel Reyes Pérez, deputy director of Technology, noted: “Our technological support has much to do with the Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA). The more than 1,700 links are supported on the ETECSA public network and are used according to MINSAP objectives and the economic strategy of the country.”
He insisted that the future of Infomed is focused on providing spaces for greater user participation, mainly to share knowledge. In this regard, a network of portals on different diseases has already been devised, allowing patients and anyone interested in learning about particular conditions to receive different views on the subject, communicate with each other and share common experiences, lessons learned, related information, and other aspects that may help to develop lifestyles that ensure better patient quality of life.
Reyes is proud to have worked on the Infomed intranet from its beginnings: “Our network was created in 1992 and when the Internet arrived in Cuba in 1996, there was already an experience within the country. It was very appealing to come to this place and discover the mysteries of the great international network. I arrived in 1996 and there was already a group of very enthusiastic people ready to create gigantic projects, led by the founder of the project, Pedro Urra González, its director until 2010. Our current focus is to expand and reach greater coverage. We can do this because the technological means in the country have grown, with greater Internet accessibility for the population.”
The Infomed network marked a milestone in the history of the computerization of Cuban society; its first node was created in 1992 and access was provided throughout the country in 1994. Its actions were not only aimed at sharing technological resources, but also empowering people through their use in tackling problems, both individually and collectively. Experience had shown that the future of access to health information was moving in a new direction.
As part of this project, several initiatives were undertaken to connect distant points. In 1999, a radio link network was created for all maternity hospitals. In 2002, the polyclinics of Havana were connected to a virtual navigation system of the National Medical Library. In 2005, several family doctors’ offices in the municipality of El Salvador, Guantánamo, one of the most remote areas in the country, were connected to the network, Reyes explained, clarifying, “These connectivity projects were abandoned as ETECSA increased connectivity services with the public data transmission network.”
Coordinator of the Web Development Group, Xiomara Rojas Rodríguez, began working with Infomed at a very young age, initially occupying a secretary position and working her way up to lead this important working group. “I supervise the work that is done here and I am considered an example of what a person with a thirst for knowledge can achieve,” she said.
Young information technology graduate Shallya Sánchez Llerena is following in her footsteps. Having graduated from the University of Havana just a year ago, she has already completed the training period with the institution and is now studying for a diploma in Health Information Management, undertaking a postgraduate course in French and is preparing to commence a masters degree.
She joined the Center to complete her thesis and at the end of her university studies she chose to start her professional career at Infomed. “I am responsible for the administration of the site’s online courses, I have a lot of work to do, information to classify and articles to insert in the archive,” she explained.
Today Infomed is a network of people and institutions that work and collaborate to facilitate access to information and knowledge, to improve the health of Cubans and the peoples of the world, through the intensive and creative use of information and communications technologies.