Authorship equity guidelines in global health journals
Equity, justice, and collaboration are widely recognised central ideological drivers of global health. While not new phenomena, recently there has been greater discussion around the many existing inequities in global health research collaboration, leading to calls to ‘decolonise global health’. However, persisting imbalances in power and privilege, inequitable funding opportunities, and disparate benefits from global health research hamper progress towards a more equitable field and the attainment of global health’s aspirational core driving principles.
There are marked inequities in authorship representation in publications reporting work conducted in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Investigators affiliated with high-income countries (HICs) often occupy the most prominent first and last author positions in studies conducted in LMICs and even worse, ‘authorship parasitism’, in which no authors are affiliated with the study country, occurs in as much as 15% of articles. Such findings clearly demonstrate that authorship in global health research has yet to be decolonised. Though most journals adhere to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) authorship guidelines, internationally accepted guidelines on local authorship representation in research conducted in LMICs are lacking.
Some editorial boards of global health journals have recently called for the creation of journal-level guidelines to mandate equitable authorship practices in global health research. However, an understanding of the prevalence and content of authorship guidelines related to work conducted in LMICs in global health journals is lacking. Our objective was to describe the current landscape of global health specialty journal guidelines addressing authorship equity for research conducted in LMICs.
We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of global health specialty journals. We used the methodology described by Bhaumik and Jagnoor to identify global health specialty journals and conducted a journal search in April 2022. We searched the National Library of Medicine for global health specialty journals using the key terms, “Global Health”[Mesh] OR (“Public Health”[Mesh] AND “Internationality”[Mesh]) OR “global health”[All Fields] OR “international health”[All Fields] OR “international public health”[All Fields] AND ncbijournals[All Fields]”. We reviewed the resulting journals to identify those specifically dedicated to publishing global health research. To define global health specialty journals, we used the National Library of Medicine definition of global health as an ‘inter-disciplinary field concerned with improving health and achieving equity in health for all people. It transcends national boundaries, promotes cooperation and collaboration within and beyond health science fields.’ Two authors reviewed each journal to verify that the journal primarily published global health-related articles.
We included journals that were publishing articles in 2022 that included ‘global health’ or ‘international health’ or ‘developing countries’ in their journal description. We excluded journals that primarily published laboratory-based articles without human subjects and journals that primarily published symposium or conference reports. We searched the main page, author instructions, and linked materials from the website of each included journal for guidelines or language related to authorship in research conducted in LMICs. When no such language was found, or it was unclear, we emailed the editorial office or managing editor listed on each website twice to request information regarding existing guidelines related to local authorship representation.
We collected the following characteristics of each global health specialty journal: country headquarters, year the journal was established, journal impact factor according to the Journal Citation Report in 2020, open access status, presence of article processing charges, and composition of editorial staff country affiliations. We also extracted information about individual journal policies on article processing charge discounts to authors affiliated with LMICs. For each journal, we extracted guidelines regarding the inclusion of LMIC-affiliated authors for studies conducted in LMICs. Editorial staff country affiliations were categorised according to the World Bank income categories in 2022.
We conducted descriptive statistics of journal characteristics and the prevalence of guidelines regarding authorship in research conducted in LMICs. We categorised journals according to authorship guideline content and local authorship inclusion recommendations that emerged upon review of the included journals’ webpages and the editorial office responses using an iterative approach by two authors. All comparisons of proportions were made using the Fisher’s exact test. All analyses were conducted using R V.4.1.2 (R Foundation for Statistical Computing).
There were 95 journals identified through our query. Of those, 45 (47.4%) met our inclusion criteria. The majority (n=41, 91.1%) of journal headquarters were in HICs (table 1). The median impact factor of the 20 journals with published impact factors in 2020 was 3.014 (IQR 2.445–4.242). Nearly all journals were open access or had open access options (n=43, 95.6%). Of the journals with article processing fees, the median fee was US$2100 (IQR $1288–3021), and 29 (67.4%) had discounted article processing charges to authors affiliated with LMICs. There were 2927 total editorial staff members in the included global health specialty journals. Of those with available country affiliations, the majority were affiliated with HICs (n=2155, 73.6%).
Rees CA, Sirna SJ, Manji HK, et al, Authorship equity guidelines in global health journals BMJ Global Health 2022;7:e010421.