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Connected to the academic world

International publisher of scientific information Elsevier and knowledge centre the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), both based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, provide Ethiopian researchers in the health sector with free access to millions of scientific articles.

“It’s a huge opportunity for us,” says Gebremichael Gebreselassie, library manager of the National AIDS Resource Center (NARC). He sees PhD and Master students, health researchers and even government officials coming into his library every day. But also journalists and religious leaders seeking to increase their knowledge about HIV/AIDS or other diseases use the prerogative. “It’s like they are swimming in an ocean of information.”

Elsevier and the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) provide a maximum of 150 research institutions in developing countries, such as Benin, Mozambique and Ethiopia, with access to two databases, called ScienceDirect and Scopus. These databases contain millions of full-text scientific articles and thousands of abstracts. The researchers are also connected in an online knowledge community, where they discuss about their latest research results and attend online courses.

The main goal is to take scientific research and policy in the health sector to the next level. The scientists can use the information for the treatment and prevention of diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, but also for the promotion of rural development with improved water supplies, sanitation and food security.

Most research organizations lack the financial capacity to purchase the latest, and mostly expensive, scientific literature, journals and papers. “We have a lack of hard currency,” says Gashaw Mengistu, coordinator of NARC. “We can’t support our own users.”
Gebremichael shows a stand with 24 hard copies of internationally renowned academic journals. It costs the research centre 20,000 dollar a year. The few journals hardly cover the enormous amount of studies that are published in the academic health field annually. “But thanks to Elsevier and KIT, we have access to countless digital journals and studies without any charge. Can you imagine what an opportunity that is?”

Tilly Minnee, KIT coordinator of the international database and knowledge community, says it’s a straightforward success story. “In the last three years, the attendance of our online courses has increased from 12,000 to somewhere between 120,000 and 150,000 downloads a year.”

But it’s not just distance learning and reading others’ articles, she points out, the articles of Ethiopian researchers can be peer reviewed by international colleagues, and, who knows, even get published. “We have seen articles written by academics from developing countries being published more often in the prominent western scientific journals,” Minnee says.

Gebremichael emphasizes that access to such an extensive list of top-of-the-bill information and a virtual community is not an opportunity health professionals should take for granted. It’s simply an obligation to use it and participate in it frequently, he says.

“I would recommend it to anyone,” he says. “Don’t use it only when you need it for your research, but use it to get a daily overview of what has been done in your field of expertise all over the world.” This new attitude towards constant access to the latest developments is not a common practice yet for most researchers. “Some organizations are struggling with their old habits,” the librarian says. “They need to stay up-to-date about new methodologies and perhaps use them in their own work.”

Capital, 14 November 2010

One comment

  1. Muhammad

    One publishers must caghre to print content they receive for free is that academics are publishing things hardly anybody wants to read. They’re essentially vanity presses. The demand for a popular academic article is insignificant relative to, say, a story about a celebrity divorce.But I agree that since the content no longer needs to be distributed on paper, costs should plummet. Journals could drop costs even further by not even making articles available electronically. You get your confirmation from your peers, OK, you can add this to your CV and leave it at that. Maybe we could reserve electronic publishing for those exceptional articles that more than one person actually wants to read.

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