Wikipedia aspires to collect and distribute the sum of human knowledge, but systemic barriers prevent the realization of this goal. Barriers to editing Wikipedia are highest in the Global South, where internet access can be sporadic or nonexistent, and people have less leisure time to contribute as unpaid labor. The entire continent of Africa (1.2 billion people) has fewer editors than the Netherlands (7 million people), meaning that content about Africa’s cultures, places, and people are predominantly written by outsiders.
With our partnership with the Society of Family Planning (SFP), we taught around two dozen public and women’s health experts how to edit Wikipedia, empowering them to apply their expertise towards improving Wikipedia’s coverage of family planning and maternal health. With our training and resources, one such health expert, a PhD candidate, chose to devote their time to improving articles related to Uganda, where they are from.
Over the 12-week course, they improved two articles related to family planning and maternal health in Uganda: Abortion in Uganda and Maternal health in Uganda. Their editing overlapped significantly with their scholarly research interests, which are maternal and child health. While they were pleased that articles specific to Uganda existed, they were disappointed in the low quality of those articles, expressing a belief that “not many contributions to the articles [they] edited seemed to be made by Ugandans”.
“I think specialist content on topics like family planning in Uganda is limited,” this health professional shared in an interview with Wiki Education, “yet it is common from my experience that people usually rely on Wikipedia information for initial Google searches for any topic.”
The PhD candidate’s role as a public health expert from Uganda meant they were uniquely positioned to improve this content. The article for Abortion in Uganda saw the addition of a new section about the health and economic consequences of unsafe abortions. Additionally, ten-year-old statistics about maternal deaths from unsafe abortions were updated to more recent figures. Maternal health in Uganda was improved by the addition of six references, enhancing the verifiability of the content. The statistics for maternal mortality ratio were also updated.
“The Wikipedia writing and editing process was completely new to me. Even with prior edits that I attempted to make before the SFP course, I learned that it is more complex that I initially thought.”
Although learning how to add to Wikipedia was an unfamiliar experience, it was one that this health professional found enlightening. “Prior to this training I was not so ‘open minded’ toward Wikipedia especially because being a physician, we rarely refer to Wikipedia for any reference.” Ultimately, though, they now believe that public health specialists should engage with Wikipedia because people rely on it for their initial information needs.
By contributing their voice and expertise, this scholar helped Wikipedia become more accurate and representative. Ugandans now have the opportunity to access information on English Wikipedia about their country by a fellow citizen, and we are honored to facilitate that connection!