Richard Horton, The Lancet: Immediate access to reliable health information should be the hallmark of a just society

15 January, 2022

In 2018 Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, wrote: "We need to believe in tearing down the barriers that stop people accessing information, and generating that information, and disseminating it"

In today's Lancet he further advances the case for immediate access to reliable health information:

'In March, 2020, chief science advisers from 12 countries, including the US, the UK, and Germany, issued a call to scholarly publishers “to voluntarily agree to make their COVID-19 and coronavirus-related publications, and the available data supporting them, immediately accessible in PubMed Central and other appropriate public repositories.” That same month, over 30 publishers, including The Lancet, signed up to this request. The call reflected the urgency of the pandemic and “the associated global health crisis.” We have made all of our coronavirus-related content freely available through a COVID-19 Resource Centre. But why stop with a pandemic? Are there not other global health crises that would benefit from immediate access to new scientific findings? Where should one draw the line in deciding what scientific information is instantly and freely available? And who should draw that line?...

'My unease lies with the arbitrary criteria for defining a “global health crisis” and so the capricious justifications for denying immediate access to new research findings. Isn’t AIDS an urgent global health crisis? Or any one of an array of non-communicable diseases ravaging socially excluded and poor communities?... health and health research have a special moral importance to society, an importance that should demand zero tolerance to any barrier limiting access to healthcare and health information...

'The argument for immediate access to new health research findings is a straightforward matter of justice, not expediency. It's time for editors to say so clearly and forcefully.'

CITATION: Offline: The incontestable moral value of health

Richard Horton, The Lancet, Comment| volume 399, issue 10321, p223, january 15, 2022

Published: January 15, 2022 DOI:

I would like to encourage HIFA members to retweet this tweet from Richard Horton to help spread the word:

Immediate access to reliable health information should be the hallmark of a just society


(1) As we have previously discussed on HIFA, the moral imperative for access to reliable healthcare information goes beyond open access to journals. It is about ensuring that *every* person worldwide has access to the reliable healthcare information they need to protect their own health and the health of others, and that they are that they are empowered to tell the difference between reliable information and misinformation.

(2) On behalf of HIFA, our thanks to Richard Horton for continuing to champion this vital issue. The Lancet has long been a supporter of HIFA and is where we first published our rationale for HIFA back in 2004: Fiona Godlee, Neil Pakenham-Walsh, Dan Ncayiyana, Barbara Cohen, and Abel Packer. Can we achieve health information for all by 2015? The Lancet, 18 July (2004; 364: 295-300).

We look forward to continue our collaboration with The Lancet to accelerate progress towards universal access to reliable healthcare information. How? See the HIFA Strategy 2022-2024:

Best wishes, Neil

Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator,