Don't cut off free journal access for poor countries
Major science publishers that are withdrawing free access to thousands of journals for researchers in developing countries should reconsider the move, which threatens the flow of information essential for development, say Tracey Pérez Koehlmoos and Richard Smith.
In 2001, publishing companies that include Elsevier, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, and Springer, signed up to the Health InterNetwork for Access to Research Initiative (HINARI) — the main system providing free access to scientific journals in low-income countries. In a deal negotiated by the WHO, they agreed to remain part of the system until at least 2015.
HINARI was not intended to solve the problem of access to scientific knowledge, stress Koehlmoos and Smith. Yet it transformed the work of institutions in the developing world, enabling researchers to contribute to the knowledge needed to improve public health and reduce poverty.
But earlier this year, researchers in Bangladesh were told they no longer have free access to 2,500 journals through the system. Institutions in Kenya and Nigeria received similar messages, while scientists in other countries report being unable to access some journals as far back as 2007. According to the WHO, 28 low-income countries are now excluded from HINARI.
Giving free access to low-income countries costs publishers virtually nothing, Koehlmoos and Smith point out — but cutting access can damage their image and trigger a backlash. Crucially, they say, it highlights that publishers are disconnected from the goals of governments and institutions working for development.
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