Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, February 09, 2008

More on the need for OA

Open Access to Scientific Research—Sharing Information, Saving Lives, Open Society Institute, January 28, 2008.  Excerpt:

The following is an updated version of an article that originally appeared in the Open Society Institute 2006 Annual Report.

AIDS deaths, thousands of them, punctuate Mphatso Nguluwe’s memories of her nursing career at the Ekwendeni Hospital in the northern end of Malawi. The AIDS catastrophe has already reduced the average life expectancy in her country to about 37 years.

And Nguluwe —a single woman who, at age 38, laughs about being old— is marching at the forefront of the local effort to prevent the epidemic from worsening. Her job is to instruct students at Ekwendeni’s nursing school. She is desperate to teach them the best methods available for treating people living with the HIV virus and practical steps HIV-positive mothers can take to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to their infants. She knows that for Malawi’s people, some of the poorest in the world, this is a matter of life and death.

Nguluwe does what she can to keep up with the latest medical research on HIV transmission. Her closest access point is an Internet café about 20 kilometers from home. So, once a month or so, she makes the trip in a minibus down a pot-holed asphalt road.

If the Internet lines are working on the day she visits, Nguluwe combs the websites of medical journals from the developed world and pores over abstracts of peer-reviewed articles. The full journal articles Nguluwe needs are just a “click-here-to-purchase” away. But a single article costs more than an average monthly wage in Malawi, and the subscription prices are so high that looking at them is infuriating. So the only way Nguluwe can get the critical information contained in these articles is to rely on a network of friends living abroad. This, she says, can take months or years.

Without the best information, “millions more will die.” ...

Focused on her computer screen in Lawrence, Kansas, Julia Blixrud has collided with the same barrier that so infuriates Nguluwe in Malawi. In the spring of 2004, Blixrud developed breast cancer. Since then, she has wanted to know more about the disease and its treatments than the popular press offers: “You get your first diagnosis, and you dig around to find out about your treatment options. Then you want to know about the different kinds of medications they are going to shove into your body during chemotherapy.”

“The articles on the web are expensive. When I started totaling up the cost, it quickly came to more than a thousand dollars,” says Blixrud, who promotes open access to scholarly publications for an Open Society Institute partner, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. “Many of the articles I sought were at the university’s medical library in Kansas City. But even the university can’t afford the licenses to give access to some journals to anyone other than doctors, students, and researchers. I also tried to obtain publications through interlibrary loan. But as a member of the general public, and not a faculty member or a student, I would be at the bottom of the list of requestors and I couldn’t wait forever for a document.”

Open access will transfer learning from rich to poor—and poor to rich.

Through its Open Access Initiative, OSI is working to help create online access to scholarly publications free of charge, so anyone from Ekwendeni to Kansas City can read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, and link the full texts of articles and use them for any lawful purpose. Removing existing access barriers to the journals, which contain the results of research funded primarily by taxpayers in the developed world and not by the publishing companies that own the journals and set their prices, will accelerate scientific research efforts and allow authors to reach a larger number of readers....