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A Proposed Approach to Facilitate the Accessibility of Scientific Articles to Trainees in Africa

Authors: Mohamed Cissé and Rafiou Agoro; On behalf of African Diaspora Scientists Federation

This article authored by the members of African Diaspora Scientists Federation calls for African research institutions to join their financial means to create the conditions for a wide-range scientific contents accessibility.

African trainees need scientific content accessibility

Let’s imagine for a moment a situation where we are pursuing a PhD degree and we cannot have a scientific content required to validate and/or extend our scientific thoughts. If, at that moment, we are affiliated with a privileged institution where libraries have access to the content; then we could stop by the library’s information desk the next day and request the scientific content. Nice! Or even better, we can just send an email to library professionals and the article could be sent to our way as soon as possible. In contrast, if we are receiving our training in an underprivileged institution, it may be possible that we don’t know where to turn to for the scientific material accessibility. In that case, if we are lucky, we may only have the authorization to read the abstract. Which is not enough for sure for curious minds. Well, the second scenario is far to be an imaginary situation as this is what’s happening in Africa to most undergraduate and graduate students we interviewed from our network of African scientists.

Scientific contents accessibility is needed to train the next generation of scientists

Scientific knowledge is built gradually by connecting new scientific information with a previous one. For early career researchers with tremendous and overflowing curiosity, having access to scientific contents when we have thoughts and ideas is critical to guide our scientific approaches, as well as helping us in developing our scientific thoughts. In an ideal world, trainees should be able to have scientific contents accessibility regardless of their scientific background or where they are pursuing their PhD degrees as this is the basis for a robust scientific training. As some of our network members highlighted the difficulties to access scientific contents, we explored few paths African institutions could follow to improve scientific contents accessibility to trainees.

The Big Idea: Creating A centralized library system across African universities

In 2020, the total number of universities in Africa was 1,896 (1). Unfortunately, most of these universities are running on a low budget, making it difficult for them to subscribe to most of the high impact factor journals, a requirement for an open access to scientific contents. Due to financial limitations, an approach of sharing the subscription cost represents an attractive cost-effective solution for African Universities. For example, for the upcoming year 2022, the cost to subscribe to all articles from Elsevier, one of the established publication houses is estimated at 7,227,933 USD per institution (2). Sharing these costs per university may cost around 3,800 USD per university. It remains to assess whether the publication houses may accept that universities subscribe to their scientific contents under the same umbrella. At least, the proposition to subscribe to scientific journals and share the cost per university could be a starting point to negotiate the subscription fees.

Before setting up the big idea, let’s getting started with establishing an interlibrary loan system

While negotiating the paths to set a centralized library system, an immediate and intermediate action to assist students with accessibility to scientific contents could be to establish a functional and efficient African Interlibrary Loan System (AILS). Once the intra-African interlibrary loan system is created, potential thoughts could be discussed to establish new partnerships with privileged universities around the world for an inter-continental interlibrary loan system.


We wrote this article to remember everyone that first most of students in developing countries could not afford to pay for scientific article contents and second that unfortunately some of their libraries do not have the subscription to most of science publishing houses. We are proposing here for African library institutions to come together and create a centralized library system across Africa in addition to establish an interlibrary loan system as an intermediate step to improve scientific content availability to trainees, a critical step to train outstanding research scientists.


African countries with most universities as of 2020.

Elsevier subscription price list for librarians and agents.   

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