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Health and Human Rights: Open Access

The journal Health and Human Rights, which examines rights-based approaches to health, began publication in 1994, and transitioned to being online and open-access in 2008. To my knowledge, it’s one of the few health-related journals that are open-access. (The majority of public health-related journals are online though.) Others include BMC International Health and Human Rights and PLoS Medicine. It makes sense (and is exciting) to me that these human rights-based journal would promote open access.

From their “About the Journal” page:

The journal endeavors to increase access to human rights knowledge in the health field by linking an expanded community of readers and contributors. Following the lead of a growing number of open access publications, the full text of Health and Human Rights is freely available to anyone with internet access. The journal’s vision for open access availability is the subject of an article in 10.1 by Gavin Yamey, a Senior Editor at PLoS Medicine and member of the Health and Human Rights Editorial Advisory Board, titled “Excluding the poor from accessing biomedical literature: A rights violation that impedes global health.”

In this article (which I would recommend reading) Yamey starts off with an example about a physician from S. Africa who based their perinatal HIV prevention program on abstracts, and ultimately compromised the efficacy of their program. Had they had access to the full-text, their approach to their programming would have been different. He goes on to talk about the profit-driven market of the publishing world:

“Such research is conducted in the interests of the public, and yet the results are largely kept out of the public domain by traditional corporate publishers who own them, subject them to extremely tight copyright restrictions, and sell them in a market worth about US$5 billion.”

He then talks about the public health consequences due to the inequitable access to information and resulting knowledge gaps, within a human rights framework. That is, low- and middle-income countries (and their health care workers, policymakers, researchers, clinicians, community members) have disproportionately less access to critical peer-reviewed health/medical/scientific research and information. The benefits of open access, he states, are countless — it fosters greater international and inter/intra-disciplinary discourse and collaboration; wider dissemination and distribution; more articles can be published because of the elimination of space constraints; increased access to information among the public (and thus greater patient advocacy, for example), etc.

I’ve experienced this in my own work — small non-profits I’ve worked for haven’t been able to access scholarly literature (or the “walled garden” as Yamey calls it) until they bring on a student affiliated with a university. Yet, they are looking for ways to participate and contribute to the literature, as well as apply evidence-based research to their programming.

As for what is lost in the transition — I’m not sure yet, but from the little I’ve read so far, seems there are some questions about the quality of the peer-review process. Also, studies are showing that open-access journals/articles are cited more than closed journals (also makes sense) — I see this as a pro, but am curious what the potential drawbacks of this are.

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