5 December 2000
"LIFE-SAVING" SCIENTIFIC INFORMATION BOOST VIA INTERNET TO HEALTH RESEARCHERS IN AFRICA, CENTRAL ASIA AND EASTERN EUROPE
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Open Society Institute (OSI), a part of the Soros Foundation network, have teamed up with leading information providers ISIÒ and SilverPlatter and other public and private partners to provide access to high quality scientific information, via the Internet, to research centres in countries in Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Discussions are also under way with Elsevier Science to join the initiative.
This pilot project is part of a wider United Nations programme called "Health InterNetwork" which aims to improve global public health by facilitating the flow of health information worldwide, using Internet technologies.
Based on the experience gained in the first pilot year, the partnership will roll out, over five years, sustainable, affordable scientific information packages to medical and health research institutions in a large number of resource-strapped countries. It is anticipated that by the end of year two, between 30 and 40 countries will have joined.
Research, and sharing the knowledge gained through its efforts, is fundamental to improving public health. Scientific and technical solutions do not yet exist for tackling many of the health problems of the developing world. Yet only a small fraction of global health research expenditure goes to research into diseases and health issues that affect the poor, such as malaria, killer childhood diseases and nutrition. 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 Brundtland, 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," she adds.
George Soros explains, "Through my Foundation I have already committed significant resources to help bridge the digital divide. Now I want to join forces with WHO and the world’s leading scientific publishers to help provide information to the health sector in emerging countries."
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 top-of-the-line international scientific information in digital format, and to integrate the world scientific community through electronic communication.
The private partners and OSI will organize comprehensive training for research staff. WHO, in collaboration with the United Nations, will discuss with service providers in the eight initial countries to provide high-speed connectivity to the Internet.
"ISIÒ is proud to participate in WHO’s Health InterNetwork project," said Vin Caraher, Senior Vice President Worldwide Sales & Marketing, ISIÒ . "Now we are able to extend access to the ISIÒ database to people in developing nations whose needs are so severe. We look forward to working with WHO to train and assess the Project and we expect that it will have a positive effect on public health research, policies and care in many nations."
SilverPlatter’s Chief Executive Officer Alex Sann explains, "I am extremely pleased and excited to be teaming with our existing business partners and WHO/OSI on this important venture. It is rewarding to assist research institutions in their quest to better understand key health issues and we hope to apply the lessons learned to further improve our product offerings."
The digital divide in information is a new problem, requiring new approaches. This multi-sector collaboration is breaking new ground within the field of scientific publishing by making all concerned parties – including the users of the information – work in concert to provide solutions that neither the public nor private sector will be able to achieve on their own.
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