Feature

For richer for poorer

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39293.711088.DE (Published 09 August 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:280
  1. Hannah Brown, freelance journalist, Cambridge
  1. hannah{at}two-cultures.com

    Five years ago, the world's biggest publishing houses committed themselves to letting researchers in developing countries have free access to the content of their journals. Beset by technical problems and language difficulties, is HINARI succeeding in what it set out to do? Hannah Brown reports

    It is not often that publishers of scientific material get a good press. Their main customers—the funders of research, scientists, and librarians—have long resented the unfairness of a system that sees their library coffers squeezed dry to purchase reports about their own science, resulting in a fractious, if co-dependent, relationship. But away from the animosity of rich countries' labs and libraries, the world's biggest publishers have been challenging their heartless image.

    Institutions registered with HINARI

    Since 2000, when the World Health Organization (WHO) first broached the idea of increasing access to scientific information in the developing world by supplying electronic content free of charge, publishers have been falling over themselves to take part. Last month, more than 100 of the world's largest publishing companies further extended their commitment to this philanthropic project by pledging to support WHO's “health internetwork access to research initiative” (HINARI) to at least 2015.1

    Some observers question whether the industry's motives are purely altruistic. It is conceivable that pitifully poor countries in 2007 may later follow China along the path to rampant consumerism, making HINARI a useful mechanism for pre-emptive brand recognition. Nevertheless, the commitment of publishers—and the rapid success they have helped HINARI achieve—has provided a valuable opportunity for scientists in developing countries to engage in the global scientific conversation.

    “Developing country researchers who don't have access to the internet will put together a proposal and then get it immediately turned down by a funder, who says the proposal is out of date,” explains Barbara Aronson, HINARI's project …

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