I first heard of the Open Access Movement in 2011 following the International Federation of Medical Students’ Association (IFMSA) August Meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark. Nick Shockey, the Director to Rights to Research Coalition, made a presentation encouraging IFMSA members to approve the IFMSA policy on Open Access. I was then the President of the Medical Students’ Association of Kenya (MSAKE). Over lunch and between sessions, I got to learn more about Nick and the work he did. We exchanged contacts and we have continued to keep in touch since.
In retrospect, perhaps, my interest in Open Access had more to do with my experience as a young scientist at the Department of Physiology, University of Nairobi. I had faced challenges accessing a published paper I needed for my thesis. I couldn’t find it in our library nor could I access it through HINARI and other Open Resources from the internet. So when I heard of the Open Access Movement, the dots began to link up. Recently, I was researching data on Breast Cancer in Kenya. I didn’t find much! While this could mainly be attributed to the limited research in a low-resource setting, I also think that the findings in these areas have not been made easily accessible to the public. I still hit the same roadblock more often than not as a medical student.
Through Nick, I got to meet a librarian at our university, Rosemary Otando, who also happened to be the EIFL-Kenya Director. We actively participated in the Open Access Week at the University of Nairobi in October, 2011 and facilitated the University of Nairobi Management Board Workshop in August, 2012.
I believe that students relying on past research to develop theories and solutions for the future should be able to easily access journals. I also believe that the public should also be able to access research findings — especially in regards to their own health.
Following the aforementioned events, MSAKE joined the Rights to Research Coalition and developed a concept note on Open Access. Part of our mandate was to educate our students and faculty on the Open Access Movement. Open Access Week was a great opportunity. We planned to conduct training for health science students at the University of Nairobi. We also invited key student representatives from the 3 other MSAKE member chapters (Moi University, Kenyatta University and Egerton University). We hope that following our training, the student leaders will be equipped to advocate for Open Access Policies in their campuses. We will also join the University of Nairobi and the Rights to Research Coalition in their Open Access activities in Kenya.
We wanted to organise Open Access activities in 2011 but did not have the funds to do so. We put off our plans to the following year. Rosemary encouraged us to participate in the competition citing success stories from a student organisation at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. She reminded us again this year to apply for the grant and we were all too eager to participate.
Our key motivation this year was to sensitize our colleagues on the Open Access Movement. I had 3 other members of MSAKE (Mary Iwaret. Nicholas Ndemange and Duncan Matheka) who were willing to help me implement our activities once we won the grant. Last but not least, I believed I could win the competition. I have personally participated in competitions: English District quizzes, a TV show, Drama & Music Festivals, Athletics and Hockey National Competitions. I loved the thrill of winning! In 2011, MSAKE partnered with the Ubongo Campaign at the University of Nairobi to organise an activity during the Brain Awareness Week. We also won the IFMSA Think Global Workshop grant by UNESCO. I believed that MSAKE had the capacity to partner with INASP during the Open Access Week 2012.