HINARI: A Slow and Silent Death?


The Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI) was an endeavor of the WHO to promote access to information in major scientific journals to students, scientists and researchers in low income nations at free of cost or low costs. It was alunched in 2002-2003 to facilitate the process of dissemination of knowledge via the internet.

However, this News article in the BMJ brings to light some disturbing data:

Five publishers have withdrawn free access to more than 2500 health and biomedical online journals from institutions in Bangladesh. One research leader has described the situation as “very discouraging.”

From 4 January Elsevier Journals withdrew access in Bangladesh to 1610 of its publications, including the Lancet stable of journals, which had been available through the World Health Organization’s Health Inter-Network for Access to Research Initiative (HINARI) programme. HINARI was set up in 2002 to enable not for profit institutions in developing countries to gain access online to more than 7000 biomedical and health titles either free or at very low cost.

Springer has withdrawn 588 of its journals from the programme in Bangladesh and Lippincott Williams and Wilkins 299 journals. The American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Society for Animal Science have withdrawn access to, respectively, two and three of their journals.

Whilst the researchers from the developing world have been crying foul, and quite understandably so, I think this may actually be a good thing. In countries like India, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, the students/researchers did not have access to HINARI owing to the fact that there were adequate number of subscribers to the publications in these nations. What it actually meant was that, giving HINARI-enabled free or low cost access to these nations would be financially detrimental. While I find that a particularly detestable line of thought, one has to take into account the fact that the publishing houses are not out there to do charity: they are there to make some big, fast bucks. And it is understandable if they want to protect their right to do so.

The incidence of publishers pulling journals out of HINARI is not a new thing. When enough new subscribers have been added to the said area, some publishers pull out their journals from the HINARI stables. While that makes financial sense, it hurts me on a different level.

At this juncture comes the argument of going for Open Access. While it is understandable that researchers still value a Nature or Cell publication to be some achievement, more effort should go into producing more quality papers in the OA arena. Only then can the researchers’ over dependence on the paid for journals be overcome. While the issue of paying huge processing fees by the authors in order to publish in top OA journals like PLoS is also another consideration, I will leave it for argument on another day.

So, while the massive reduction in the accessibility to journals via the HINARI is a matter of great shame, at the same time, it is a clarion call for every researcher to expend more time and energy to publish in Open Access journals, so that more people all around the world can access and appreciate their works.

What do you think? Leave your comments and let me know your opinion. I leave you with this excellent comic from one of my most favorite webcomics PhD Comics, drawn by Jorge Cham. To visit the comic in all its resplendent glory, click on the pic to go to the PhD Comic site and check it out. Thanks!


Some more links:

1. Zosia Kmietowicz. 2011 Publishers withdraw 2500 journals from free access scheme in Bangladesh. BMJ 342:doi:10.1136/bmj.d196

2. Aronson B (2002) WHO’s Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI). Health Info Libr J 19: 164–165

3. Villafuerte-Gálvez J, Curioso WH, Gayoso O, 2007 Biomedical Journals and Global Poverty: Is HINARI a Step Backwards?. PLoS Med 4(6):220. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040220

2 thoughts on “HINARI: A Slow and Silent Death?

    1. Well, actually the WHO has little choice in the matter, since it is up to the publishers to decide whether to keep the journals accessible for free or low costs anyways. Though the WHO may have pressurized them into continuing with HINARI access, their wanting to stay out of it is actually understandable.


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