Using Search Queries to Understand Health Information Needs in Africa

by   Rediet Abebe, et al.

The lack of comprehensive, high-quality health data in developing nations creates a roadblock for combating the impacts of disease. One key challenge is understanding the health information needs of people in these nations. Without understanding people's everyday needs, concerns, and misconceptions, health organizations and policymakers lack the ability to effectively target education and programming efforts. In this paper, we propose a bottom-up approach that uses search data from individuals to uncover and gain insight into health information needs in Africa. We analyze Bing searches related to HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis from all 54 African nations. For each disease, we automatically derive a set of common search themes or topics, revealing a wide-spread interest in various types of information, including disease symptoms, drugs, concerns about breastfeeding, as well as stigma, beliefs in natural cures, and other topics that may be hard to uncover through traditional surveys. We expose the different patterns that emerge in health information needs by demographic groups (age and sex) and country. We also uncover discrepancies in the quality of content returned by search engines to users by topic. Combined, our results suggest that search data can help illuminate health information needs in Africa and inform discussions on health policy and targeted education efforts both on- and offline.


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