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Global Health & Health Equity: Resource Limited but Knowledge Rich: Hinari and Systematic Review Training in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe in Africa.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Submitted by Lilian Hoffecker, Global Health and Health Equity Column Editor, MLAConnect, with contributions from Karin Saric, Sarah Young, Erin Eldermire, Masimba Clyde Muziringa, and Israel Mbekezeli Dabengwa

How do you conduct a systematic review with limited resources? Twenty years ago, it would have been impossible to search and access the volumes of articles that these reviews notoriously require. But with library professionals as trainers and the support of Hinari, one of five World Health Organization (WHO) Research4Life programs that allow academics in low- and middle-income countries to access research information, producing systematic reviews is feasible for many research institutions in developing nations.


In 2019, MLA awarded the Librarians without Borders® (LWB)/Elsevier Foundation/Research4Life Grant to three US librarians—Karin Saric, Health Sciences Libraries, University of Southern California–Los Angeles; Sarah Young, Hunt Library, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA; and Erin RB Eldermire, Flower-Sprecher Veterinary Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY—and two Zimbabwean librarians—Masimba Clyde Muziringa, College of Health Sciences Library, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe, and Israel Mbekezeli Dabengwa, Library, National University of Science and Technology, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The librarians used the grant to train thirty-seven researchers and librarians from eight institutions at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. Over five days, they taught participants to search in databases like PubMed, Scopus, and ClinicalKey, and they instructed the participants about the systematic review process from protocol development to publication.

Hinari Librarians

Librarians (left to right): Israel Mbekezeli Dabengwa, Sarah Young, Erin RB Eldermire, Masimba Clyde Muziringa, Karin Saric.

In fact, the complexity of the subject matters called for further guidance beyond the onsite workshop. For months after they left, Young and Eldermire continued the participants’ training by developing webinars on advanced topics such as risk of bias assessment, protocol registration, and search strategy translation. Recently, the librarians presented their findings in “Accessing Evidence-Based Resources and Conducting Systematic Reviews in Resource-Limited Settings” at the MLA ’20 vConference.

The workshop galvanized and stimulated the uptake of research evidence into policy. Muziringa has gone on to partner with representatives from the Ministry of Health and Child Care to develop three rapid reviews related to policy and practice on COVID-19. Dabengwa has coauthored several papers on the development of a mobile health app for smart travel to clinics and authored a library and information science paper. Both projects include synthesis research components.

Practice to policy

Instructors and learners are only part of any educational initiative; just as important is the leadership that embraces the undertaking and helps sustain it. At the start of their workshop, Saric and her colleagues were met with much celebration. Muziringa and his team had coordinated a formal “kick-off” that was presided over by the vice chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe, who recognizes the value of evidence-based decision making. Research conducted by Zimbabwean researchers makes critical contributions to real-world policy, and the workshop objectives aligned well with this mission, in particular with the nation’s Education 5.0 initiative, the goal of which is to raise the skill and aptitude of its workforce. With supportive leadership and even national press coverage, the workshop, trainers, and participants experienced an impressive start.


Zimbabwe has struggled with economic and political crises for several decades that have greatly impacted day-to-day life. At the time of the workshop, the country was in the middle of a drought and facing daily power, gas, and Internet disruptions. Despite such on-going challenges, institutions and individuals often find solutions that allow them to pursue professional and educational opportunities regardless of the circumstances. During the workshop, back-up generators at the university kept power stable and technology running without interruption. Access to information may require more effort and innovation, but librarians, researchers, and students take advantage of grants and external collaborations to help fill information and service gaps. Connections with countries outside of Zimbabwe have long existed, allowing students to study abroad and researchers to collaborate internationally.

The US librarians were struck by how Zimbabweans are not isolated with their specific concerns and, instead, challenges are met as a community. Education is highly valued, and coupled with resilience and collaboration, obstacles are overcome. While access to information may require innovative efforts, library services are on par with and, in some cases, more robust compared to US counterparts. The workshop deliberately included training on academic publishing in an effort to support participants’ endeavors to increase African scholarship in the global body of health literature and to share its unique knowledge with the world.

Apply for the grant

If you are interested in sharing your expertise with librarians and health care researchers in developing regions, look out for the 2020 LWB/Elsevier Foundation/Hinari/R4L grant, which will start accepting applications in September.

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