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AFRO-NETS> BMJ journals free to the developing world

  • Subject: AFRO-NETS> BMJ journals free to the developing world
  • From: Dieter Neuvians MD <neuvians@mweb.co.zw>
  • Date: Fri, 15 Feb 2002 05:10:53 -0500 (EST)

BMJ journals free to the developing world

BMJ 2002;324:380 (16 February)

Now free for the 100 poorest countries

The BMJ Publishing Group has for almost a year provided free access to the
electronic version of its 23 specialist journals to anybody in the 50 poor-
est countries in the world.[1] (The BMJ and the studentBMJ are, of course,
free to everybody everywhere.) Now we are extending free access to over 100
of the poorest countries in the world, which between them include most of
the world's population (see box at:
<http://bmj.com/cgi/content/full/324/7334/380> ).

Within a few weeks (once we have solved some technical problems) we will
also provide free access to Clinical Evidence, our evidence based compendium
of answers to commonly asked clinical questions.[2]

A list of the 23 BMJPG specialist journals is available at:

The BMJ is not alone in providing free access to those in the developing
world. Our initiative comes just a few days after the switching on of the
World Health Organization initiative, which provides institutions in the
developing world with free or very low cost access to the publications of
many of the big commercial publishers.[3] The WHO initiative is being ex-
tended to include more publishers, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists
has just announced that it will be providing free access to its journals
for those in the developing world.

Publishers can afford these initiatives because although journals are ex-
pensive to produce the cost of providing electronic access to one more in-
dividual is effectively zero. In contrast, the cost of printing and ship-
ping a paper journal is substantial. Some cynics wonder if providing free
electronic access to those in the developing world might be an empty ges-
ture as internet access is limited. Access, however, is skyrocketing in the
developing world, particularly with the spread of technology that avoids
the necessity for wires in the ground. What's more, there is no point in
spending money to get access if you can't then afford to access material.
Making material free should fuel a virtuous circle of increasing access.

Healthcare workers in the developing world have for years had the problem
of very limited access to the latest information.[1,4,5] Ironically, they
might quickly have the problem of healthcare workers in the developed world
of being overwhelmed with material of low quality and limited relevance.
Providing free access to material is only one part of what is needed to im-
prove the use of health information in the developing world. Initiatives
are also necessary among those in the developing world to increase their
own capacity to distil, package, present, and disseminate not only the ma-
terial originating from the rich world but also their own material. Pub-
lishers and editors from the rich world should be able to help.

The final aim of these initiatives is not to send a flood of material from
the rich to the poor world but for those in the developing world to become
equal participants in the global discourse on health. We all stand to gain.
Already, for example, the debate on bmj.com that occurs in our rapid re-
sponses has been enriched by increasing contributions from the developing
world. And the magic of information is that increased access means more
value for everybody. A piece of information that might mean nothing to most
people might lead to a deep insight in somebody. This is how science devel-
ops.[6] And that remarkable person perhaps a Niels Bohr is just as likely
to be in the developing world as anywhere else.

Richard Smith, editor.
BMJ and chief executive, BMJ Publishing Group
Alex Williamson, publishing director, specialist journals.
BMJ Publishing Group

1. Godlee F, Horton R, Smith R. Global information flow. BMJ 2000; 321:
2. Barton S. Using clinical evidence. BMJ 2001; 322: 503-504.
3. Kmietowicz Z. Deal allows developing countries free access to journals.
BMJ 2001; 323: 65.
4. Pakenham-Walsh N, Priestley C, Smith R. Meeting the information needs of
health workers in developing countries. BMJ 1997; 314:90.
5. Kale R. Health information for the developing world. BMJ 1994; 309: 939-
6. Rhodes R. The making of the atomic bomb. New York: Touchstone, 1986.

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