Open access (50) Myth 3: Open access will not make any difference to health policy and practice

11 August, 2019

Dear HIFA colleagues,

We now enter our final week in the Open Access discussion and we invite your contributions on:

Myth 3: Open access will not make any difference to health policy and practice

Text from the IFLA Statement on open Access and comments from me below:

The International federation of Library Associations' IFLA Statement on Open Access (2011) ( asserts:

'IFLA is committed to the principles of freedom of access to information and the belief that universal and equitable access to information is vital for the social, educational, cultural, democratic, and economic well-being of people, communities, and organizations.

'Open access is the now known name for a concept, a movement and a business model whose goal is to provide free access and re-use of scientific knowledge in the form of research articles, monographs, data and related materials. Open access does this by shifting today's prevalent business models of after-publication payment by subscribers to a funding model that does not charge readers or their institutions for access. Thus, open access is an essential issue within IFLA's information agenda...

'The current model does not guarantee access and is not sustainable. As the rate and amount of research publication in various forms is rapidly expanding, the current predominant scholarly communication model – via scholarly journals subscriptions – is hardly sustainable and not working effectively in the interests of the global community. Scholarly journals are subject to rapid price escalations and there are no clear and consistent correlations between price, quality and impact. Even the most well endowed research library cannot afford to purchase all of the content requested by its faculty and students.

'The situation is even more critical for smaller college and universities and largely unacceptable for institutions in the developing world, with severely limited or no budgets. Existing development initiatives to some extent compensate for the lack of access to crucial information, but these initiatives are dependent on publisher decisions, which are made unilaterally...

'Faster and wider sharing of knowledge fuels the advancement of science and, accordingly, the return of health, economic, and social benefits back to the public. Not surprisingly, librarians have been amongst the most vocal advocates for open access.

'The benefits of open access: There are significant gains to making research and research results available without financial, legal and technical barriers to access. Researchers benefit from increased visibility, usage and impact for their work. Open access helps to publicise institutions' research strengths. For publishers, open access brings maximum visibility, increased readership and impact for the contents; it means that a greatly improved dissemination service is being provided for research. Open access enhances the flow of knowledge between North and South and also between South and South.'


The assertion that 'Faster and wider sharing of knowledge fuels the advancement of science and, accordingly, the return of health, economic, and social benefits back to the public' is logical and perhaps common sense, but is there already evidence of such benefits at global, national or institutional level?

On a very specific and anecdotal level, I have no doubt that open access will have made a significant difference to individual learning and communication of research. Furthermore, it has had an overall positive impact on the global healthcare information system, facilitating several components to the system in addition to access to specific research studies. Open access makes the work of systematic reviewers and guideline developers. A small number of 'open-access journals' give access to research but not to commentary and analysis. The vast majority, however, are open-access also to commentary and analysis (which some of us find more valuable than the full text of the research itself). Open access also facilitates publishers of secondary reference and learning materials, who are mainly unrestricted in their work to reproduce, repackage and translate content for diverse audiences. And the concept of open access goes well beyond journals, increasingly being applied to all kinds of outputs by different publishers.

I look forward to your reflections on whether and how open access makes a difference to health policy and practice.

Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA Project on Access to Health Research

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: