Open access to facilitate research and information on COVID-19

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In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, the value and necessity of Open Solutions is crucial. Open Access to scientific information and open data facilitate better and faster research towards a vaccine and inform public health measures essential to contain the spread of the virus. Open Educational Resources (OERs) keep citizens updated and educated about the virus, helping to ensure their compliance with public health advisories, and allow learning to continue at a distance. On this page, open solutions refers to peer reviewed open access journal articles and open scientific data, and our initiatives on open access and open scientific data are presented. For information on OERs, please visit this page.

Building on its existing mandate on ensuring Universal Access to Information, UNESCO in support of various professional organizations disposes of several tools and encourages various initiatives to tap into the power of open solutions in combatting Covid-19.

On 30 March 2020, UNESCO hosted an online meeting of representatives of science ministries of 122 countries to exchange views on the role of international cooperation in science and increased investment in the context of COVID-19. During the meeting, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay called on governments to reinforce scientific cooperation and integrate open science in their research programmes to prevent and mitigate global crises.

Balancing sharing of useful data with the right to privacy

Personal data, such as health and geolocation, can be key measures taken against COVID-19, including for the mapping of the location and spread of the disease, assessing the impact of governments’ measures to contain the virus, and providing targeted information in high-risk areas.

Yet, the use of personal data may infringe on the right to privacy, and there is a need to balance these needs. Several international conventions, statements, ethical frameworks and declarations recognise this dilemma and lay out guidelines for dealing with data in situations of public health crisis. A few key ones are the World Health Organisation’s guidance for surveillance during an influenza pandemic, which outlines data requirements and surveillance strategies. A supporting statement also can be found in UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee’s Report on Big Data and Health, which encourages international agencies to develop ethical frameworks for data and privacy protection while facilitating open access and use of Big Data for the common good. The GDPR has a number of implications for international health research involving the collection, use, and cross-border sharing of people’s personal data, but includes exceptions where data sharing is in the interest of public health.

UNESCO and Partners 

The Coronavirus Watch, launched by UNESCO's Category 2 Centre, the International Research Centre on Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI) in Slovenia, provides a global view of the state of the pandemic. By summarising the world's collective knowledge about the virus, including number of cases and media reports in each country, CURE provides an overview of the situation, allowing the public to keep themselves updated. It also synthesises statistics into more digestible graphs, further facilitating public understanding of the virus' evolution.

Open Science is critical to the fight against COVID-19

There is a need for science communication that is transparent and open, without infringing on the privacy of people. It is imperative to leverage scientific innovations and support principles of openness and inclusiveness in processes that generate solutions to the severe health menace that is likely to bring significant hardships to humanity.

Scientific communication, research and data offer key building blocks to create new scientific knowledge. It is important to acknowledge that the creation of new scientific knowledge to deal with the emergency risk management depends on creating an open and level playing field and providing unconditional access and sharing of scientific contents, technologies and processes to the entire scientific community from developed and developing countries alike.  Access to verified and peer reviewed data, journal articles and laboratory log books, is thus central to find a cure against the ongoing crisis.  Verified information and scientific research can also keep the public updated on the situation and allay fears that may be caused by ignorance or disinformation.

UNESCO and Partners

For scientists and institutions which wish to disseminate their materials relevant to COVID-19, virology, and public health, but are unsure how to do so concretely, UNESCO’s Open Access curricula for librarians and researchers provides a helpful guide. The modules explain the objectives, processes, types and existing limitations of Open Access scholarly communication, which include insights into IPR, the methods and limitations of the process of peer reviewing and the concepts and roles of E-journals, databases and ICTs. The final module entitled “Sharing your Work in Open Access” is a step-wise guideline on publishing research work on OA.

For research organisations and Member States, UNESCO Policy Guidelines for the Development and Promotion of Open Access facilitate the understanding of the most important aspects of Open Access so that they may evaluate their own situations with respect to scholarly communication in Open Access and select appropriate policies and link them to their national research systems.

The Covid-19 Universal REsource gateway (CURE) has been created by the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) in India, and Redalyc in Mexico. The platform aggregates verified openly-licensed information on the entire life cycle of the pandemic from different sources, facilitating the scientific community and the general public's access to relevant and accurate information on the virus.

UNESCO has supported efforts for open access to scientific knowledge through our partners such as the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). UNESCO is supporting the call of IFLA and its partners to ensure open access to scientific information, particularly at this crucial time when the world must work collectively to find vaccines and treatments for the Covid-19 virus.

Using Open Educational Resources (OER) to keep learners engaged at home

For more information on UNESCO’s OER work, visit Fighting COVID-19 through digital innovation and transformation.

 

Other calls for Open Access to Scientific Information

UNESCO and Partners:

  • A question of survival - and example for an open society. The Executive Committee of the German Commission for UNESCO has released a statement emphasising that open science is a question of survival and necessary to overcome the pandemic. It calls upon the scientific community to draw lessons from the current experience to inform their future research efforts, and for bodies of science administration to consider openness in their future research funding. The German Commission also thanks UNESCO for its leadership on Open Science, particularly through the upcoming Recommendation.
  • Open Access curricula for librarians and researcher: A complete set of five OA training modules for researchers and four OA training modules for library schools.
  • UNESCO Policy Guidelines for the Development and Promotion of Open Access. The guidelines  facilitate the understanding of the most important aspects of Open Access so that they may evaluate their own situations with respect to scholarly communication in Open Access and select appropriate policies and link them to their national research systems.
  • Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) in India and Redalyc in Mexico, Covid-19 Universal REsource gateway (CURE).  The platform aggregates verified openly-licensed information on the entire life cycle of the pandemic from different sources, facilitating the scientific community and the general public's access to relevant and accurate information on the virus.

Other Partners:

  • Government science advisors from twelve countries released an open letter calling on scientific publishers to make all research related to the coronavirus and Covid-19 more freely available through PubMed Central, a free archive of medical and life science research, or through other sources such as the World Health Organization's Covid database. The twelve countries are: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, the UK, and USA.
  • Creative Commons has re-emphasised its message that all publicly-funded organisations should 1) Adopt open access policies that require publicly funded research to be made available under an open license (e.g. CC BY 4.0) or dedicated to the public domain. 2) Ensure all educational resources (such as videos, infographics and other media tools) are also openly licensed to facilitate dissemination of reliable, practical information to the public.
  • The International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC) has released a Statement on the Global COVID-19 Pandemic and Impact on Library Services and Resources, to help publishers and content providers understand how Covid-19 affects the information community. It further suggests some actions for publishers to consider, including making any relevant content and data sets currently behind subscription-only paywalls Open Access, removing and waiving user limits, and more actions to expand OA during this time.
  • The Data Together Organisations (CODATA, GO FAIR, RDA, and WDS), in recognition of the necessity of controlled access to quality data for scientific and policy responses during times of crisis, have launched COVID-19 Appeal and Actions. Their actions include showcasing the creation and deployment of FAIR data related to COVID-19, defining detailed guidelines on datasharing and reuse, and preparing for future resilience by addressing the critical issues of data access, interoperability and reuse across domain, disciplinary, and institutional boundaries. 
  • The Public Statement of Library Copyright Specialists: Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research, recently published by a group of expert copyright librarians from colleges and universities across the United States, clarifies how fair use applies in exceptional circumstances such as the current situation.