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[procaare] Medical Journals Give Poor Nations Net Access
- From: ProCAARE <email@example.com>
- Date: Thu, 12 Jul 2001 08:56:02 -0400 (EDT)
Medical journals give poor nations Net access
By John Donnelly, Globe Staff, 7/9/2001
WASHINGTON - Seeking to bridge a vast digital divide between rich and poor
nations, the publishers of the six biggest medical journals today will give
scientists in the developing world free Internet access to nearly 1,000 research
The World Health Organization called the offer of free access to the journals,
some of which cost thousands of dollars a year for a single subscription, a
breakthrough for scientists and doctors in Africa, Asia, and Latin America
battling an array of diseases.
''All of a sudden what has become a closed rich boys' club is now welcoming in
scientists in poor countries,'' said Barbara Aronson, the collection
development librarian at the World Health Organization in Geneva. ''Even those
scientists out in the bush, they can now e-mail the publications or the
scientists and say, `You got any more on this?' or, `This is what I've found out
here.' It opens up the world to them.''
The six publishing companies - Elsevier Science, Springer Verlag, Wolters Kluwer
International Health and Science, Harcourt General, Blackwell, and John
Wiley -approached the World Health Organization with an offer of free Internet
access to public institutions in 62 countries.
After several discussions, the companies agreed to give the material free to
public institutions in countries with a gross national product of less than
$1,000 per capita, and at slashed rates to nations with GNP per capita between
$1,000 and $3,000 - another 34 countries. But the offer, which will be
announced today in London, doesn't extend to some countries hardest hit by the
AIDS pandemic, notably South Africa and Botswana, because their GNP per capita
is over $3,000.
The development is part of a movement in global health of pricing products at
vastly reduced levels, or at no cost, in the developing world, while maintaining
high profit margins in rich countries.
The publishers of the journals pre-empted a public battle - some scientists have
been asking that past articles be made available free of charge - in contrast to
pharmaceutical companies, which engaged in heated debates with activists and
politicians over cutting prices for their drugs in poor countries.
''In this case, nobody from Oxfam had to write a polemic, nobody had to sue
anybody,'' Aronson said. ''This may very well have been a pre-emptive move, but
if so, it's an elegant one, a gracious one, and a generous one.''
The offer follows a call last September by United Nations Secretary General Kofi
Annan to use the Internet to strengthen public health services around the world.
Called the Health InterNetwork, the project's fundamental principle is equity of
access to information.
George Ayittey, an economist at American University in Washington and a native
of Ghana, said that the offer for free scientific and clinical articles was a
crucial step for African public health workers, but said many more initiatives
were needed to build infrastructure.
''My main concern is to accelerate this in Africa you need to expand and
strengthen the telecommunications infrastructure,'' said Ayittey. ''In many
places, they have crumbled. In Nigeria, the most populous country, telephones
don't work. In Zimbabwe, it takes three months to get a new telephone line. In
the long run, these are some of the things we need to do to accelerate the flow
of information into Africa.''
But he applauded the initiative. ''It's amazing the debt of information there,''
he said. ''New research knowledge always has been a problem in Africa. Anything
that brings new information is a good thing.''
The initiative is expected to last at least three years, when the publishers
will decide whether to continue it. Access will begin in January. The journals
include the African Journal of Ecology, Wound Repair and Regeneration, Annals of
Botany, and Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine, among the nearly 1,000.
The list doesn't include the New England Journal of Medicine or the Journal of
the American Medical Association because those publishers weren't approached,
Aronson said. ''We just took the six largest publishers at this time,'' she
said. She added that some publishers, including the British Medical Journal and
the American Journal of Epidemiology, already were providing their content free
to the poorest countries.
''This is going to be very big,'' Aronson said. As an example of the need, she
said that when scientists from Africa attend WHO meetings in Geneva, they almost
always rush to see her on their lunch breaks and ''plead with me to have things
photocopied from the journals.''
''As another example, in Africa, the way it works now, medical students need to
write a thesis in their last year based on practical applications,'' she said.
''They study from outdated textbooks where there is no access to journals. So
they write to our regional office in Zimbabwe and ask for them to send a few
articles on a subject. They write with whatever they get. Imagine what this
initiative can do to doctor training in Africa.''
John Donnelly can be reached by e - mail at mailto:%firstname.lastname@example.org
This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/9/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.
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