Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Research4Life helping Africa to attain MDGs

Forty-eight countries in Africa have free or low cost online access to over 35,000 peer-reviewed international scientific journals, books, and databases worth tens of millions of dollars, thanks to the Research4Life Programmes led by the World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and the world’s leading scientific, technical and medical publishers.

Accessing online resources on Research4Life portal
Research4Life, a public-private partnership for international development, is providing access to global scientific literature (full-text documents in digital format) focusing on health, agriculture, environment and other life, physical and social sciences in the developing world. The goal of the Programmes is to improve the quality of research conducted in developing countries that will advance higher education, inform public policy decision, and prepare tomorrow’s leaders.  By so doing, Research4Life will contribute to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, reducing the knowledge gap between industrialized countries and developing countries by providing affordable access to critical scientific research.

Since early 1990s, thousands of students, researchers and lecturers in majority of public universities and research institutes in Africa have faced challenges to gain access to current scientific information needed for education and research. Universities and research institutes are unable to pay subscription fees to peer-reviewed international scientific journals that can cost the organisation more than $1 million per year. This is now addressed by the Research4Life programmes.

The four Research4Life programmes are HINARI (Access to Research in Health) launched in January 2002 and managed by WHO, AGORA (Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture) launched in 2003 by FAO, OARE (Online Access to Research in the Environment) launched in 2006 by UNEP, and ARDI (Access to Research for Development and Innovation) coordinated by WIPO. The four UN agencies are working closely with other partners including Cornell University, Yale University, the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, some two hundred publishers and technological partners including Microsoft.

Public institutions such as government ministries and departments, hospitals and clinics, universities and colleges, professional schools, research institutes, extension centres, national libraries, as well as local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in 48 African countries are eligible for free or low cost access to Research4Life Programmes. The programmes are accessed at and an institutional registration is required to obtain a dedicated username and password. Among others, institutions already using the programmes include the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security of Tanzania, the Agricultural Research Corporation (ARC) in Sudan, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, National Veterinary Research Institute (Nigeria), Black Lion Hospital (Ethiopia), King Faisal Hospital (Rwanda), Kenya Medical Research Institute, Aga Khan Hospital (Kenya), Makerere University (Uganda), University of Ghana, University of Zambia, Addis Ababa University and Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (Senegal).

The impact of Research4Life on work, life and community is documented in a booklet - Making a difference: Stories from the field:how access to scientific literature is improving the livelihoods of communitiesaround the world. Examples from Africa, illustrated in the booklet, include researchers, scholars and scientists in Malawi who produced quality and well researched project reports, scientific papers, theses and dissertations; a physician in Zambia who used scientific information from the programmes to improve the lives of HIV-infected children; a doctor in Ethiopia who successfully treated a patient with a rare and serious condition; a Nigerian researcher who completed his PhD studies and other research on organic agriculture, biopesticides and biofertilizers; and a Sudanese policy-maker who used the information to introduce evidence-based policy development designed to improve the Sudanese people’s health.

During the tenth anniversary of the launch of AGORA, in September 2013, Stephen Rudgard, then Chief of Knowledge and Capacity for Development at FAO, said that AGORA had contributed to changes in behaviour of scientists, academics and practitioners in terms of their information use. "Researchers and academics using AGORA have been able to plan their research more effectively and ensure that their work is not duplicative. They have been able to find new technologies developed outside their own arenas, test them to ensure they are applicable locally, and then pass them on to farmers. In addition, they have been able to use literature to update their curricula."

Capacity Development
Participants at a Research4Life workshop in DRC
Capacity development in using the Research4Life programmes in sub-Sahara Africa is provided by ITOCA (Information Training and Outreach Centre for Africa) and “Librarians Without Borders”®, in collaboration with the regional offices of FAO located in Ghana, WHO (Congo) and UNEP headquarters in Kenya. Since April 2004, more than 5,000 researchers, lecturers, policy makers, health professionals, development practitioners, and librarians have taken part in more than 85 Research4Life training-of-trainers workshops. From available data, Gracian Chimwaza, ITOCA Executive Director, estimates that the trained participants have gone on to reach more than 300,000 users downstream with follow-on training on the four programmes.


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