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African scientists are making increased use of online scientific journals but many are still not aware of free access, according to a study.

Researchers also warned that slow Internet connections and librarians' control over passwords is hindering what access there is.

The study was published in BioMedCentral's Health Services Research last week (17 May).

Researchers interviewed over 300 doctors and research scientists in Cameroon, the Gambia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda about awareness and use of online medical information and literature.

They found that 66 per cent had used the Internet as a source of information in the last week.

When asked whether they had heard of specific online journals and information sources, the majority recognised PubMed and the British Medical Journal online, but less than half had heard of the Cochrane Library, BioMedCentral, and the Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI), which allows free access to full text journals in low income countries.

The research also suggests that scientists have trouble downloading articles from these sites due to slow connections and unreliable power supplies.

And many respondents complained they had difficulty obtaining passwords from librarians, who often failed to make them available.

Maurice Long, publisher coordinator of the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers says over four million articles were downloaded from HINARI in 2006, indicating that the majority of librarians do distribute HINARI passwords.

In the cases where they don't, there is a need for information literacy training, Long told SciDev.Net.

Barbara Aronson, HINARI's programme manager at the World Health Organization agreed. She said that, in the study, those from institutions whose librarians and researchers had been trained at HINARI workshops reported better results in working together to use HINARI.

Ed Rybicki, a researcher at Cape Town University in South Africa told SciDev.Net that he and his colleagues in the developing world have benefited from open access, but that bandwidth and slow connections continue to be a problem.