- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2001

About 1,000 of the world's top medical journals are to be made available for free by their publishers to doctors in the poorest countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, the World Health Organization is to announce today in London.

"It is perhaps the biggest step ever taken toward reducing the health information gap between rich and poor countries," said WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland in a statement.

The six publishers who put out 1,000 prestigious journals have decided to make them available via the Internet for free to the poorest countries and for greatly reduced prices for middle-income countries because "there has to be more equity in access," said Barbara Aronson of the WHO.

"Medical schools in poor countries use out-of-date textbooks and have no [recent] medical journals," said Ms. Aronson in an interview Friday.

"If they want to get their populations healthy, their research institutes have to have access to information."

A foundation funded by philanthropist George Soros is to announce today at a joint news conference with the WHO in London that it will provide Internet access and some computers to poor countries' medical schools and institutes to allow them to utilize the medical journals.

Among the journals being made available for free or at reduced cost will be the British journal Lancet, Social Science and Medicine, Statistics and Medicine, Health Economics and Acta Tropica which focuses on tropical medicine.

Some of the journals charge up to $3,000 per year for a subscription, placing them far beyond the reach of medical schools, physicians and researchers in much of the developing world.

Not participating in the free or reduced-fee plan are the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine.

A WHO spokesman said those publications would not be very useful to impoverished developing countries because they largely focus on illnesses of the wealthy Western world.

The big killers in Africa, Asia and Latin America are malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS and infections such as pneumonia and diarrhea diseases that have long been curable or treatable in the West.

The idea of providing the cream of cutting-edge medical knowledge to the struggling medical training and research institutes of the Third World came from researchers and academics in the developing countries themselves who raised the issue with WHO, said Ms. Aronson, who purchases biomedical journals for the WHO library.

Their appeal was taken up by Dr. Brundtland, who has revitalized the world health body with practical assaults on major killers, including tobacco, malaria and tuberculosis. She calls her strategy "evidenced-based practice and policy," Ms. Aronson said.

Working with the British Medical Journal and the Open Society Institute of the Soros foundations network, WHO approached the six biggest medical journal publishers: Blackwell, Elsevier Science, the Harcourt Worldwide STM Group, Wolters Kluwer International Health & Science, Springer-Verlag and John Wiley.

The publishers agreed to a tiered pricing system that will make nearly 1,000 of the 1,240 top international biomedical journals available to institutions in the 100 poorest countries free of charge or at significantly reduced rates, said the WHO in a statement.

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