This is a sample question from Abdallah in Tunis.

Avatar2My community group wants to start HIV prevention work for injecting drug users. We would like to know which organizations do similar work in Muslim countries, which ones get international funding (such as from the Global Fund) and, if possible, how much.

This is a sample answer from Robert in Geneva.

bourgoing-avatar100x100I found a network of organizations that promote harm reduction among drug users in Muslim countries. They provide the contact details of some English and French speaking experts and a list of international donors. Here are the steps I followed.


1) Clarify the initial question

I doubt that any database could provide a satisfying answer to such a specific question. Rather than raw data, we are looking for information that is most probably found on a web page or in a text document. So a general search engine is a more suitable place to start (rather than a database or any single website).

2) Choose proper keywords

Maroc_RdRSome important keywords are in the question but they may not necessarily match those that are used on the pages or in the documents that answer the question.

So I do a first Google search with HIV prevention muslim countries injecting drug users to see whether I’m missing any other important words. And I quickly find “harm reduction” as well as “IDU“, the acronym for injecting drug use or injecting drug users. I look for an “injecting drug users” synonym and find “people who inject drugs“.

The tricky thing here is that there are about 50 countries where Islam is practiced by a majority of the population (as I learn by googling “list of Muslim countries”) and, apart from the Global Fund, I don’t know which other organizations might be funding such prevention programs.

0033) Draft a powerful query

Here’s my query: (“HIV prevention” OR “harm reduction”) program “muslim countries” (“injecting drug users” OR IDU OR “people who inject drugs”)

You will notice that I put quotation marks “” around words that are most likely to be found side by side and I add ‘OR’ between synonyms. I also add “muslim countries” as an additional keyword because I’m looking for pages or documents that will address this issue in a comparative way.

As you can see on the right, Google suggests a list of scholarly articles on top of its results. This comes from Google Scholar, a specialized search engine  that crawls scientific publications. In this case, it has recognized technical terms in the search query like “harm reduction” and “injecting drug users” that suggest that I’m looking for scholarly content. This might be a good lead but the third link, “Islam and harm reduction“, leads me to an article  that costs about $20 to download and I would rather go for free content if I can.

So I go back  to my search results and find what seems to be a close match to what I’m looking for: HIV among People Who Inject Drugs in the Middle East and North Africa: Systematic Review and Data Synthesis

4) Verify your results

It’s a recent article (2014). I access it through PubMed,  a full-text archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature. It was published by PLOS Medicine, which, after a quick verification, turns out to be a serious and trusted source of peer-reviewed research articles. This one has been cited 15 times.

I quickly scan through it. It’s very long and I don’t have the time to read the whole thing. So I do Ctrl+F (or Command+F on a Mac) and type in “prevention“, to quickly find and jump to a keyword that is most likely to be used next to the parts of the article that contain what I’m looking for.

And indeed, after clicking on ‘next’ 3 times, I come to a section titled “HIV Response among PWID in MENA”. It makes reference to harm reduction programs for People Who Inject Drugs (PWID) in Lybia, Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, and Tunisia.

005It also mentions MENAHRA, a network of regional and international organizations that get funding from international donors to promote harm reduction among people who inject drugs (PWID). I easily find the MENAHRA website with the contact details of key staff members.

There is a clickable map on the homepage with the harm reduction profiles of the region’s countries, and most importantly, the site gives access to a… Donors’ Database from its top menu. This database lists all international donors that fund or may fund prevention work for injecting drug users.

5) Refine your search

The MENA region only covers 20 countries out of a total of about 50 where Islam is practiced by a majority. But what I have found is already a good start.

Since you are based in Tunis, and many other Muslim countries have French as an official language (such as Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal), you may want to do a separate search with the corresponding French keywords. If you speak French, you could guess words like

[VIH sida “réduction des risques” “usagers de drogues injectables” UDI islam musulman]. MENAHRA is based in Lebanon and its website is also available in French, so they might be able to help you with this as well.

You could spend a lot of time following other leads on the web but I always recommend asking experts to help you when the scope of what you are looking for is quite wide, like here.