Business of Academic PublishingResearch Perception Building

Unlocking the Potential of Open Access: A Publisher’s Roadmap for Advancing Global Health Research

The year 2023 will see the 75th birthday of the World Health Organization (WHO): seven decades of a mission to achieve Health For All. However, access to scientific knowledge remains a challenge for many researchers and clinicians, especially those in resource-strapped situations. Clinicians in rural areas and less developed countries are less likely to be affiliated with academic institutions and may lack the financial resources to obtain subscription-only articles when needed. This information gap hinders the ability to provide optimal, evidence-based care. It also deepens health inequality—both between urban and rural regions and between less developed and highly developed countries.

Open access (OA) is particularly powerful in transferring knowledge from lab to clinic in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Therefore, in order to support the advancement of global health and keep the world safe, academic publishers and journals must prioritize and facilitate OA to research articles and data and thus contribute to a more equitable global health landscape. This article provides an overview of how OA publishing contributes to global health, and discusses solutions to two key challenges that publishers face with respect to OA health-related publications: diversity and accessibility.

See also: Geographical Differences in Open Access Ecosystems: Implications for Research Societies and Publishers

How OA publishing contributes to global health

By reducing digital, technological, and knowledge barriers, OA publishing can buttress global health in a number of ways.

  1. OA publishing improves health outcomes

Clinicians who cannot afford to access subscription-based journals struggle to source up-to-date clinical information locked behind paywalls. OA publishing allows clinicians and healthcare providers around the world to freely access important case reports and research findings and apply those findings to practice. This greater accessibility can help improve global health manifold.

  • OA publishing facilitates collaboration

Intellectual property barriers and data secrecy stand in the way of progress in treatment development. When research findings are freely available, it becomes easier for researchers from different countries to build on each other’s work, share data, and collaborate on new projects, eventually accelerating clinical research and improving health outcomes universally.

  • OA publishing allows faster dissemination of information

Research published in OA journals can be accessed and shared more quickly than research published in traditional subscription-based journals. This is especially important in the context of global health emergencies, where timely access to information is essential to inform public health policies and interventions.

  • OA journals empower communities

OA publishing can empower communities by giving them access to scientific literature that can help them make informed decisions about their health. This is critical in LMICs, where access to healthcare resources is limited.

  • OA publishing avoids redundant efforts

When researchers work in silos, without sharing research objectives, methods, and findings at early stages of projects, it may lead to unintentional duplication of research. Open practices minimize redundant research efforts and avoid the wastage of time and resources.

See also: Open Access and Climate Research: Transformations in the Publication Landscape Over Time

Representing diverse perspectives in OA publications on global health

Promoting representativeness in OA publications on global health requires active effort and engagement from publishers. By implementing the following strategies, publishers can help promote equity, ensure that diverse perspectives are represented, and help improve health outcomes.

  1. Encouraging submissions from diverse regions

OA publishers can actively seek submissions from researchers from LMICs and non–English-speaking countries through targeted outreach efforts or collaborations with local institutions.

  • Supporting translation efforts

OA publishers can offer translation services to ensure that articles from non–English-speaking countries are translated into English. This can make research from diverse regions and populations more accessible and bridge language barriers.

  • Having a diverse and representative editorial board

A diverse editorial board, representative of different regions, languages, populations, and genders, ensures that articles are reviewed and published while taking into account the needs and perspectives of different communities. The use of culturally appropriate language and terminology will make publications relevant to different populations, resonating with diverse needs and values.

See also: Open Access and Gender Equity in Academia

Making healthcare information truly accessible to global audiences

To ensure that global health research is made accessible to global audiences with varying internet bandwidths and English capabilities, OA publishers can consider the following five strategies:

  1. Providing multiple formats

OA publishers can provide research articles in multiple formats, such as HTML and PDF, to accommodate different internet bandwidths and device capabilities. This allows readers to access content in a format that works best for them.

  • Offering translations

OA publishers can offer translations of research articles into multiple languages to ensure that readers with varying English capabilities can access the content. Publishers can also encourage authors to provide translations of key findings or abstracts in multiple languages.

  • Using plain language summaries and data visualizations

Plain language summaries and data visualizations make research findings more accessible to readers with varying English capabilities. If OA publishers include such elements, key findings can be communicated clearly and effectively; readers can explore the data and findings even if they may not be able to fully understand the article in English.

  • Optimizing for low bandwidth and for mobile devices

OA publishers should optimize their websites for low bandwidth connections by minimizing the use of large images, videos, and other data-heavy elements. The websites should also be made smartphone-friendly so that the vast population that seeks healthcare information can do so without a laptop or desktop. Information should be optimized for easy reading on smaller screens, should load fast, and be easy to navigate and interact with.

  • Partnering with local organizations

OA publishers can partner with local organizations to promote their content and ensure that it reaches audiences far and wide. This can be done by collaborating with local universities, research institutions, and advocacy organizations.

Final notes

The inability to access and publish clinical research is one of the major reasons for global health inequity. OA publishing can play an important role in advancing global health by increasing accessibility to scientific literature, facilitating collaboration, and accelerating the dissemination of information. Fortunately, there is a growing movement for promoting OA for publications resulting from publicly funded research. National and institutional OA requirements are also contributing to this push for OA. Patient advocates, researchers, publishers, funders, and policymakers need to work together in advocating for the role of OA in healthcare research. There are numerous ways by which journals and academic publishers can support and maximize OA, thereby contributing to equitable global health for all.

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