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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 October, 2003, 07:50 GMT 08:50 UK
Net lifeline for African doctors
Hand on mouse
Medical journals at the click on a mouse
Doctors in East Africa have been given access to thousands of online medical papers thanks to a unique project with the University of Toronto.

They can now read up to date medical literature and over 20,000 journals.

The project is called Ptolemy after the ancient ruler of Alexandria, whose dream was to collect a library of all the worlds' literature.

"One of the great strength of Ptolemy is it's small and inexpensive," said Dr Massey Beveridge of Toronto University.

Net access

The Canadian surgeon started the project after working in Africa and it is already producing results.

"The surgeons themselves are terribly appreciative; 60% of those involved in the project say information they have received through Ptolemy has changed their practice," he told the BBC programme, Go Digital.

Dr Mohamed Labib
I'm looking for joint research with a multi-centre approach, Africa, Canada and the UK, all looking at the same medical problem, combining results
Dr Mohamed Labib
"The cost of having a few hundred affiliates in Africa is negligible for the university library. Any other university could do the same thing," he said.

"But there's a great dearth of internet access in Africa. However while the population in general may not have much access, the surgeons do.

"We can use this to bring them the information they need, after all that's what the internet was designed for in the first place," explained Dr Beveridge.

Doctors in East Africa using the resources of Ptolemy speak highly about the project.

Dr Mohamed Labib, one of only two urologists in Zambia, plans to use the online library to train more specialists.

"Next year we will start a post-graduate course in urology, dependent on Ptolemy," said Dr Labib, who is based at the university teaching hospital in the Zambian capital, Lusaka.

"These trainee doctors will have access to research and clinical materials through the project. Before this I never imagined we could start a master's degree course here."

Both doctors see African research feeding back into this database of medical knowledge.

"I'm looking for joint research with a multi-centre approach," explained Dr Labib, "Africa, Canada and the UK, all looking at the same medical problem, combining results."


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