The World Health Organisation has launched an initiative with commercial information providers to supply research centres in Africa, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe with low-cost Internet access to scientific information. Discussions are also underway to encourage Elsevier Science, the multinational publisher, to join the initiative that is currently being led by the Open Society Institute (part of the Soros Foundation network), and information providers, ISI and Silver Platter.
The project is part of the United Nations "Health InterNetwork" programme, which aims to improve global public health by facilitating the flow of health information using Internet technologies. Only a small fraction of global research expenditure goes to research into diseases and health issues that affect the poor, such as malaria, fatal childhood diseases, and nutrition. According to WHO, one step towards changing this is to facilitate research in the countries that have first hand experience with these health issues.
"Valuable research is carried out in developing countries and emerging economies, but the researchers are hampered by not being able to share essential scientific information and communication," says Dr Gro Harlem Bruntland, WHO Director-General. "If the researchers and scientists can read the same journals, search the same databases, join in the discussion groups, compete for the same grants as their colleagues from wealthier countries, it will strengthen their own research, bring them into the international community of researchers and eventually improve dissemination of their own results".
Over the next five years the partnership will roll out information packages to medical and health research institutions in a large number of resource-strapped countries. The first year of the project — the pilot phase — will enable researchers, teachers, and students at leading research institutions in Armenia, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Mongolia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Uzbekistan to access scientific information through the project, with between 30 and 40 countries joining the initiative by the end of year two.