Background: In 1982, the Annals of Virology published a paper showing how Liberia has a highly endemic potential of Ebola warning health authorities of the risk for potential outbreaks; this journal is only available by subscription. Limiting the accessibility of such knowledge may have reduced information propagation toward public health actors who were indeed surprised by and unprepared for the 2014 epidemic. Open access (OA) publication can allow for increased access to global health research (GHR). Our study aims to assess the use, cost and impact of OA diffusion in the context of GHR.
Method: A total of 3366 research articles indexed under the Medical Heading Subject Heading "Global Health" published between 2010 and 2014 were retrieved using PubMed to (1) quantify the uptake of various types of OA, (2) estimate the article processing charges (APCs) of OA, and (3) analyse the relationship between different types of OA, their scholarly impact and gross national income per capita of citing countries.
Results: Most GHR publications are not available directly on the journal's website (69%). Further, 60.8% of researchers do not self-archive their work even when it is free and in keeping with journal policy. The total amount paid for APCs was estimated at US$1.7 million for 627 papers, with authors paying on average US$2732 per publication; 94% of APCs were paid to journals owned by the ten most prominent publication houses from high-income countries. Researchers from low- and middle-income countries are generally citing less expensive types of OA, while researchers in high-income countries are citing the most expensive OA.
Conclusions: Although OA may help in building global research capacity in GHR, the majority of publications remain subscription only. It is logical and cost-efficient for institutions and researchers to promote OA by self-archiving publications of restricted access, as it not only allows research to be cited by a broader audience, it also augments citation rates. Although OA does not ensure full knowledge transfer from research to practice, limiting public access can negatively impact implementation and outcomes of health policy and reduce public understanding of health issues.
Keywords: Global health research; Knowledge translation; Open access; Publication ethics; Publication policy; Research capacity; Research impact.