The World Health Organization and the world’s six biggest medical journal publishers have announced a new initiative which will enable close to one hundred developing countries gain access to vital scientific information that they otherwise could not afford. The arrangement would allow almost one thousand of the world’s leading medical and scientific journals to become available through the Internet to selected medical schools and research institutions in developing countries based on tiered pricing.
Until now, biomedical journal subscriptions, both electronic and print, have been priced uniformly for medical schools, research centres and similar institutions irrespective of geographical location. Annual subscription prices cost on average several hundred dollars per title and many key titles cost more than $1500 per year. This has made it all but impossible for the large majority of health and research institutions in the poorest countries to access critical scientific information.
Scheduled to start in January 2002, the initiative is expected to last for at least 3 years while being monitored for progress. It will benefit bona fide academic and research institutions, which depend on timely access to biomedical journals. Between now and the end of this year, these institutions will be identified individually and the process put in lace. It is hoped that all parties, both the publishers and the participating institutions alike, will learn from this experience. Decisions about how to proceed will grow from the precedents the initiative sets and the working relationships developed among the partners.
The initiative is an important step in the establishment of the Health InterNetwork, a project introduced by the United Nations Secretary-General at the UN Millennium Summit last year. Led by WHO, the Health InterNetwork aims to strengthen public health services by providing public health workers, researchers and policy makers access to high-quality, relevant and timely health information through an Internet portal. It further aims to improve communication and networking. As key components, the project will provide training as well as information and communication technology applications for public health.
Working with the British Medical Journal and the Open Society Institute of the Soros Foundation network, WHO approached the six biggest medical journal publishers, Blackwell, Elsevier Science, the Harcourt Worldwide STM Group, Wolters Kluwer International Health & Science, Springer Verlag and John Wiley, with the aim of bringing them together with the countries concerned to seek a more affordable pricing structure for online access to their international biomedical journals.