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Open access essential to improve information exchange

We fully support Donat Agosti's contention that open access is the only way for publicly-funded research to be shared not only between the North and South, but also between developing countries (see 'Free access to research should not be limited').

It is also our view that UN-supported projects like the Online Access to Research in the Environment, Health Internetwork Access to Research Initiative and Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture initiatives only provide 'sticking plaster' solutions to information deprivation.

Already, thousands of research articles are available without charge or restriction through nearly 800 registered repositories and approximately 2,500 open access journals worldwide. And the SPARC Open Access Newsletter shows that these numbers are accelerating fast.

We do not understand why influential UN organisations such as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the UN Environment Programme — whose remits are to support international health, agriculture and environmental programmes — are not encouraging the open access movement. By concentrating on the above projects and working with commercial publishers, they hamper research into issues such as climate change, HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and avian flu.

Meeting these challenges requires strategies to increase information exchange. Why, then, are these agencies solely supporting programmes that have limited global beneficiaries? For example, countries like India with low gross domestic products are barred from collaboration. These agencies should also be working to promote open access to all publicly funded research information. As Agosti says, technological developments mean the future benefits of open access for scholarly communication are truly exciting.

UNESCO is the only UN agency that seems to have understood the importance of open access having endorsed its use in the draft programme and budget for 2006-2007. We urge other UN agencies and key funding bodies around the world to follow suit.

Read SciDev.Net's special report on Open Access: the fast track to building research capacity in developing countries

Related SciDev.Net articles:
Scientists push open access for developing nations

Related links:
Online Access to Research in the Environment
Health Internetwork Access to Research Initiative
Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture
SPARC Open Access Newsletter
UNESCO draft programme and budget for 2006-2007