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Open Access to Health and Human Rights

Here’s another important step forward in the open access movement. Under its new editor Paul Farmer (who is often talked about as a future Nobel laureate), the international journal Health and Human Rights (HHR) has become fully open access.

The entire contents are freely available and are published under a progressive copyright license that allows readers to reuse the materials for any legal non-commercial purpose.

Farmer and colleagues, in a message from the editors in the “new look” HHR, explain why they are abandoning the previous subscription-based model:

“In embracing the open-access model, HHR aligns itself with a global movement for the democratization of scientific knowledge production and a more equitable distribution of the benefits of science, particularly in health. HHR’s distinctive contribution to this movement will come through the journal’s systematic linking of conceptual and legal human rights analysis with documentation of concrete, front-line experiences translating rights principles into social change and health progress on the ground.”

Online interactivity, which is a natural complement to open access, will be a key feature of the new HHR. In addition to the core articles in the journal, the HHR website also showcases a section of “Perspectives.” The editors describe these as “web-only features, including policy analyses, issue briefs, and advocacy documents, as well as invited opinion pieces and short essays aimed to stimulate debate on health and rights.”

“Over time,” they say, “the website will also provide links, not only to other online journals and information resources, but to emergent spaces in which communities of practice are organizing to strengthen peer-to-peer learning among practitioners in rights-based health program design and service delivery (for example, the Global Health Delivery Project at Harvard University).”

In the interests of full disclosure, I ought to declare two things.

First, I’m on the editorial board of HHR and have advised the editors on transitioning the journal to open access. They used the terrific Open Journal Systems platform.

Second, the journal has just published a peer-reviewed paper of mine, called “Excluding the poor from accessing biomedical literature: A rights violation that impedes global health.” Here’s an excerpt:

“Through its transition from a subscription-based to an open access journal that publishes materials under the Creative Commons Attribution License, Health and Human Rights joins the knowledge commons movement. The journal now has the opportunity to help catalyze the creation of an online “health and human rights commons” that would be an extremely powerful tool in the worldwide promotion and protection of health as a human right. This commons could, among other things, provide researchers, clinicians, and activists with unfettered access to the data that they need to support their human rights work. It could become a rich public venue for sharing research and policy data, global analysis, discussion and debate, case reports, and experiences from the field.”

HHR has so far posted two responses to my piece, one from Maurice Long of HINARI, who seems deeply upset that I didn’t heap more praise upon the HINARI project (I stated that “HINARI is a step in the right direction,” which is true, but also that it is “a very long way from providing universal open access,” true again). I’ll respond to Maurice’s critique shortly.

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