London (9 July 2001) - The World Health Organization and the world's six biggest medical journal publishers today announce 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 1000 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.
Overseeing the signing of the Statement of Intent by senior executives of the publishers, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO, said:
"As a direct consequence of this arrangement, many thousands of doctors, researchers and health policy-makers among others will 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."
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 $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 place so that they can receive and use access authentication. All parties—the publishers and the participating institutions will learn from this experience. Decisions about how to proceed after the initiative will grow from the precedents it sets, and will be informed by the working relationships which have developed among the partners.
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.
Working with the British Medical Journal and the Open Society Institute of the Soros foundation network, WHO approached the 6 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.
The outcome is a tiered-pricing model developed by the publishers that will make nearly 1000 of the 1240 top international biomedical journals available to institutions in the 100 poorest countries free of charge or at significantly reduced rates.
For further information, journalists can contact Mr Gregory Hartl, WHO Spokesperson, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (+41 22) 791 4458; Fax (+41 22) 791 4858; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features as well as other information on this subject can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home page http://www.who.int/