One could write a book on the ways open science can help the poor; I'll try not to, at the moment but will type out a few thoughts. The +OSDD Malaria project has an online, open meeting tomorrow morning, your time -- it is listed as an event on the lower right here in this Community -- grab a medchem colleague and go to it. Here is the latest agenda, <http://www.thesynapticleap.org/node/434> and it will be at <http://webconf.ucc.usyd.edu.au/osddmalariadec172012/>.
Global health and development go hand in hand. We should be obliged to openness in medical research, when lives are on the line, and that is accentuated when affordability is a concern as it is in most cases with HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, or with NTDs, and so on with related concerns such as water quality. Openness manifests in free or reduced-cost access to published research, in data sharing, in use of open source tools, in larger collaborative efforts as global health is such an amalgam field, and so on. With moral motivation there is more openness generally in areas of science affecting the poor and in related work that overlaps with science, such as +The White House recently hosting a data jam with #devdata from USAID.
Openness in science affecting the poor still falls short of the need and short of the possibility. The celebrated <http://www.research4life.org/> programs, for example are just over ten years old, and provide free or reduced-cost access to published research in the developing world. I have seen them being helpful in academia and I could point to practical results in agriculture, but these programs are woefully insufficient.
Research4Life access is granted per country, and most publishers have decided that India and Pakistan, China, Indonesia, and other similarly poor nations are too wealthy to deserve access. I recall one month I spent in India particularly, often with projects connected to
+Asha for Education and their alumni -- I would like the publishers to visit the same schools and clinics. Many do have internet access, which is sometimes a problem, but not one of them could afford to purchase access to medical or education research. Access to research is a problem in all cases, and it must be part of the solution to poverty in all cases. In nations like China and India, despite the hype and their trajectory, the large majority of people are very poor indeed.
At <https://twitter.com/openscience> the +Open Science Federation tracks this set of issues and often points to other organizations more directly involved, for example a tweet I posted there yesterday pointed to <http://bokamosoafrica.org/2012/12/rethinking-higher-education-what-open-access-can-mean-for-africa.html>.
You will also find the term "poor" used in unexpected places in open science, because the access problem has become so bad in scholarly publishing that anyone can be relatively poor. +Peter Murray-Rust has famously called people like me the "scholarly poor," see e.g. <http://blogs.ch.cam.ac.uk/pmr/2011/10/05/the-scholarly-poor-dentists/>. I am not poor, but most of the research relevant to my work is not open access, and I cannot afford to purchase it. Even though one of my alma maters, Cornell provides me lifetime access to many closed journals through its libraries, that excludes most of the research I would use. The other, Harvard recently declared even its libraries to be too poor <http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k77982&tabgroupid=icb.tabgroup143448>. Harvard Library running to the rebellion means that things really are that bad, but also that future US open access policy is probably baked in our favor, but I digress.
The problem is most often debated in academia but it hurts the poor, however they are poor and affects people regardless of whether they work in the sciences per se. +Jenny Molloy +Mike Taylor and friends have documented a wider range of examples of the access problem at <http://whoneedsaccess.org/>.
While advocating for a recent petition to +The White House for public access to public-funded research, we appealed to such diverse groups and gathered more than 45,000 signatures on the petition at <http://wh.gov/6TH>. The White House has promised to respond. We also attempted to rally the poor specifically but found, even in America, the digital divide was bad enough to present difficulties. The petition can only be signed online and it was difficult for multiple people to use one computer, due to technical limitations meant to ensure one signature per person. Open science must do, but can only do its part, there need certainly to be many other aspects to addressing poverty