Medical students in the former Yugoslavia, left without well-equipped labs and libraries after years of war, are turning to the internet for their lessons.
Students from the new Mostar University Medical School are among the first to benefit from the Virtual Medical School (VMS) being developed by medics at the University of Split in Croatia.
Mostar Medical School in Bosnia Herzegovina opened two years ago. But Damir Sapunar, head of histology and embryology at Split University Medical School, says that after years of war there is not sufficient money in the country to provide the microscopes, dissecting laboratories and other sophisticated equipment needed to train future medics. Instead, the students are turning to the computer screen for their lessons.
The initial aim is to write a full university medical course in Croatian and English that will be accessible to students worldwide over the internet. Lecturers from Split have teamed up with experts in Ireland, Canada and Hungary to compile the material.
According to Professor Sapunar, who is one of the initiators of the Virtual Medical School, internet material on specialised subjects will compensate for the lack of lecturers at Mostar and will mean that specialisms not represented at the small school can still be delivered.
The team is compiling an image collection which will contain photographs and illustrations for embryology, radiology and histology studies, none of which is fully equipped at Mostar.
The VMS is being funded during its first year by CARNet, the Croatian Academic and Research Network, which was established in 1991 to connect Croatian academic institutions. The project has also received support from the British Council in Croatia.
Not only medical students but qualified doctors will be able to keep abreast of medical advances. There are plans to carry information about drugs and clinical practice guidelines, and free full text of the Croatian Medical Journal, a peer- reviewed medical journal that takes a special interest in the influence of war, post war and post communism on the fields of public health and psychiatry.
Equally important, says Professor Sapunar, the site will be open to the public. There are plans to offer information on diseases and diagnostic procedures, written in plain language.
The site is fully funded for its first year, though academics are providing material voluntarily. The future is uncertain. Keen not to charge the public for accessing the site, the medical school is seeking funding from other sources.