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Alumni Dispatches

“Bill Will Find It For Us!”

William Brieger, DrPH ‘92

In 1976, I started working in the department of Preventive and Social medicine at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. In those days, one typed up one’s manuscripts—there were no online submissions, no laptops, no open-access journals or internet access to PubMed for undertaking appropriate literature reviews, and no cell phones with which to exchange health information. 

I remember standing in line for an hour-plus to make a 3 minute phone call home . . .
Some of the people I worked with then were involved in publishing a free magazine called Africa Health that was a major source of continuing education information for front line health workers. 

In those days, when I was on the “Nigerian diet” (characterized by heat, diarrhea and no ice cream) it was a highlight to receive Africa Health It was something to hold on to.

More than 30 years later, despite all the technological advances, that magazine still serves its original purpose as a leading source of clinical and managerial information for health professionals from across Africa, and I am serving as its malaria contributor.  It’s funny that even to this day, things that were needed then are needed now. Many frontline doctors and nurses and even University lecturers still don’t have easy or ready access to the literature; many libraries don’t have subscriptions to major journals.  I still hear, “Hey, Bill will find it for us!” The lack of up-to-date literature strikes me. Things are better, but it’s still a challenge. 

Even though cell phones and smart phones are becoming ubiquitous, the devices are only as smart as the users. They do save a whole lot of headaches when you’re out in the field, trying to meet up with people; PIs can be in touch even if they are 60 miles away and one does not have to drive across town hoping to find someone in their office
A lot has changed because of technology, and some Jhpiego colleagues have tried PDAs for data entry in Africa, but such technology hasn’t completely negated the tried-and-true practice of write-it-down-on-the-questionnaire-and-hope-you-don’t-lose-it.  

William Brieger ( is a professor in the Health Systems Program of the Department of International Health at Johns Hopkins University (, where he received his DrPH in 1992, as well as the Senior Malaria Adviser for JHPIEGO, JHU’s family and reproductive health affiliate ( He was a Professor in Health Education at the African Regional Health Education Centre, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, from 1976 to 2002.
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