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WHO, top publishers to help scientists in developing nations access information

WHO, top publishers to help scientists in developing nations access information

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) and the world's six biggest medical journal publishers today announced a new initiative which will enable close to 100 developing countries to gain access to vital scientific information that they otherwise could not afford.

The arrangement agreed to by the six publishers would allow almost 1,000 of the world's leading medical and scientific journals to become available through the Internet to medical schools and research institutions in developing countries for free or at deeply-reduced rates, WHO said in a statement issued in London.

Overseeing the signing of the Statement of Intent by senior executives of the publishers, the Director-General of WHO, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, said that as a direct consequence of this arrangement, many thousands of doctors, researchers and health policy-makers among others would be able to use the best-available scientific evidence to an unprecedented degree to help them improve the health of their populations. "It is perhaps the biggest step ever taken towards reducing the health information gap between rich and poor countries," she stressed.

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. Many key titles cost more than $1,500 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.

The initiative is an important step in the establishment of the Health InterNetwork, a project introduced by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan 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.

Scheduled to start in January 2002, the initiative is expected to last for at least three years while being monitored for progress. It will benefit bona fide academic and research institutions, which depend on timely access to biomedical journals.