UNESCO mobilizes 122 countries to promote open science and reinforced cooperation in the face of COVID-19

UNESCO on 30 March hosted an online meeting of representatives of ministries in charge of science all over the world. Participants included 77 ministers, including governmental secretaries representing a total of 122 countries, as well as Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Sarah Anyang Agbor, African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology, Moisés Omar Halleslevens Acevedo, former Vice President of Nicaragua and Dr Soumya Swaminathan, the World Health Organization’s Chief Scientist.

The objective of the meeting was to exchange views on the role of international cooperation in science and increased investment in the context of COVID-19.

The key issue of open science, for which UNESCO has been working on an International Recommendation since November 2019, was a major topic of discussion.

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.

“The COVID-19 pandemic raises our awareness of the importance of science, both in research and international cooperation. The present crisis also demonstrates the urgency of stepping up information sharing through open science. The time has come for us to commit all together,” the Director-General declared.

According to Ms. Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at WHO, “collaboration is really critical for knowledge and data sharing as well as in advancing COVID-19 research. At a time when trade and transport barriers are impeding the movement of critical materials, it is important to underline that science be allowed to lead the global response to this pandemic.”

Ms. Anyang Agbor of the African Union stressed that “Africa needs a stronger research enterprise that mobilizes academia, and the public and private sectors. The African Union, at the end of 2019, acknowledged Open Science as a game changer in addressing inequalities.”

The international scientific community has been mobilized around the emergency for several weeks, notably by sharing and making universally available the results of research and an unprecedented reform of their working methods (major scientific journals have made content regarding the virus accessible to all, more than 1,000 research articles have been published in open access in response to WHO’s appeal, international research consortiums were established in a matter of days allowing for rapid progress including the sequencing of the virus’s DNA over just a few weeks).

“We all depend on science to survive”, concluded Marcos Pontes, Minister of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communication from Brazil.

Regarding open science, the agenda of the meeting featured:

The pooling of knowledge, measures to support scientific research, and the reduction of the knowledge gap among countries
The mobilization of decision makers, researchers, innovators, publishers and civil society to allow free access to scientific data, research findings, educational resources and research facilities
The Reinforcement of links between science and policy decisions, to meet societal needs
The opening of science to society while borders are closed