June 2009

Meet Our Featured Guest Columnist:
Victor Cid

is a senior computer scientist at the Disaster Information Research Center of the National Library of Medicine.

Q: What does "health and human rights" mean to you?

A: The understanding that open opportunities to live a healthy life and access to health care are fundamental rights. Unobstructed access to humanity's best health information is a powerful enabling tool.

Q: How/why did you get involved in global health issues?

A: I was fascinated by how information technologies can provide bridges that connect people with the information they need to make the best health decisions. I started creating such bridges long ago, in collaborations between the Pan American Health Organization, the National Library of Medicine and other international organizations. I helped connect people in remote and semi-isolated world regions to reliable health information, and provided tools to sustain this access and spread the benefits throughout their communities. The same tools have enabled collaboration and produced synergies that are having an impact in health and quality of life. Our current focus in disaster preparedness has been an excellent conduit to give people access to useful health information and foster collaborations.

Q: Describe some of the successes you have seen in your work.

A: I have seen medical systems in some developing countries benefitting from getting access to reliable clinical and scientific information and the tools that enable them to create and manage their own health information. I have seen medical libraries in poor settings evolve from almost unknown entities to important resources for their communities and countries. I have also seen people's opportunities to live a healthy life highly improved by their access to knowledge and information tools. Thanks to the National Library of Medicine's contributions, disaster preparedness has gone a long way in some such settings.

Q: What are some of the challenges in preventing disasters?

A: It's challenging to convince people to include disaster prevention elements in their daily lives, especially in places where disasters are rare or infrequent. On the other hand, you want to encourage people to prepare, but don't want to scare them or distract them from other important aspects of life. People and institutions face competing priorities all the time.

Q: How can young people make a difference?

A: It's natural for young people to feel that they will live forever and therefore it's not easy to bring their attention to preparedness. If young people can learn about the value of preparing and make it a habit to incorporate elements of it in their daily life, that would go a long way towards developing a culture of prevention.