Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Poor Countries Get Free Online Access to Medical Journals

Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Poor Countries Get Free Online Access to Medical Journals

Article excerpt

The six publishers of about 1500 of the world's leading medical journals have agreed to provide online access to their journals free or almost free to developing country institutions. At a press conference in London on 9 July, the publishers said the agreement, which was facilitated by WHO with support from the BMJ Publishing Group and the Soros Foundations Network, would take effect from January next year and would benefit at least 600 institutions -- universities, medical schools, research institutions, nursing schools -- in about 100 developing countries. The six publishers are Blackwell, Elsevier Science, Harcourt Worldwide STM Group, John Wiley, Springer Verlag, and Wolters Kluwer International Health & Science.

Under the agreement, readers in the 60 or so developing countries with a per capita gross national product (GNP) of less than US$ 1000 will have entirely free or, in the case of one publisher, almost free online access to the journals. Readers in the approximately 30 countries with a per capita GNP of between US$ 1000 and US$ 3000 will be offered deeply discounted subscription rates. The agreement will be monitored for an initial three years, at which time decisions will be taken about any changes required to the present arrangement.

The announcement was greeted with almost universal acclaim, verging at times on the awestruck. "Stunning!" was how Ms Helga Patrikios, a librarian at the University of Zimbabwe Medical School in Harare, expressed it. "It really does close the gap [between rich and poor countries]." Dr Richard Smith, editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), called the agreement "momentous" and said it "completely transforms their [developing country readers'] environment. It's like a desert turning into a garden". WHO director-general Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland called it "a real breakthrough ... perhaps the biggest step ever taken toward reducing the health information gap between rich and poor countries".

A few critics, however, tinged the euphoria created by the announcement with fears that potential readers in parts of the developing world that lack the logistic and material infrastructure to access these journals electronically will be deprived of the benefits of the arrangement. …

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