Background: It is widely acknowledged that there is a global divide on health care and health research known as the 10/90 divide.
Methods: A retrospective survey of articles published in the BMJ, Lancet, NEJM, Annals of Internal Medicine & JAMA in a calendar year to examine the contribution of the developing world to medical literature. We categorized countries into four regions: UK, USA, Other Euro-American countries (OEAC) and (RoW). OEAC were European countries other than the UK but including Australia, New Zealand and Canada. RoW comprised all other countries.
Results: The average contribution of the RoW to the research literature in the five journals was 6.5%. In the two British journals 7.6% of the articles were from the RoW; in the three American journals 4.8% of articles were from RoW. The highest proportion of papers from the RoW was in the Lancet (12%). An analysis of the authorship of 151 articles from RoW showed that 104 (68.9%) involved authorship with developed countries in Europe or North America. There were 15 original papers in these journals with data from RoW but without any authors from RoW.
Conclusions: There is a marked under-representation of countries in high-impact general medical journals. The ethical implications of this inequity and ways of reducing it are discussed.