By Sae-Rom Chae
AMSA Global Health Action Committee, National Chair
For years, AMSA Global has supported the open access movement as an integral part of improving the world's health by giving practitioners and academics in poor countries access to the latest medical knowledge in leading biomedical and public health journals. Through AMSA’s membership in the Right to Research coalition, an international alliance of 31 graduate and undergraduate student organizations, AMSA advocates for more progressive principles of scholarship dissemination.
On January 4, 2011, 5 major publishers withdrew over 2500 health and biomedical online journals from institutions in Bangladesh, resulting in compromised or no access for scientists and researchers. These journals were made available through the World Health Organization's Health Inter-Network for Access to Research Initiative (HINARI) programme, an initiative founded in 2002 to give researchers in poor countries access to leading scientific journals.
An article in the British Medical Journal on January 11, 2011 reported this move by publishers to be driven by the achievement of "active sales" in the country and consequently drew international criticism from the wider global health community, including many of the editors of the pulled journals. In response, many of the publishers have begun to rescind their decision and reinstate access in Bangladesh.
However, the situation in Bangladesh is not an uncommon occurrence and this event, once again, underscores the need to address the information access problem in our world with a sustainable and long-term solution. The publishing scheme in which scientific breakthroughs are reported and disseminated must be radically changed in order to reach those who may need this knowledge the most.
According to Dr. Laura Janneck, an AMSA Global alumnus and active advocate for the open access movement, “One of the areas in which open access can make a substantial impact is in the field of international medicine and public health. It is the nature of medical science that what is applicable in one corner of the globe is applicable anywhere.”
She continues, “In response to this outrage, most of the publishers have begun to reverse their decision and reinstate access to their journals in Bangladesh. Despite this small success thanks to the vigilance of the global health community, the underlying issue is far from resolved. Many international scholars have taken this as a wake-up call to push forward the open access movement. They recognize that HINARI is not a sustainable solution to the information access problem. This will hasten the call for all who publish research to publish in open access journals, and for the global health community to revolutionize the way academic information is published. Producers and consumers of academic research must work together toward long-term open access solutions. Only then will producers of research be able to ensure that their work is disseminated, and consumers will be able to utilize the fruits of their labors to heal the world’s destitute sick.”