Article processing charges are stalling the progress of African researchers: a call for urgent reforms | BMJ Global Health



The recognition and progression of an academic or research career is hinged on the number and quality of publications in high-impact journals. Open access publication, especially in high-impact journals, confers a significant citation (ie, recognition and progression) advantage. However, there is increasing demand for publication fees or article processing charges (APCs), by high-impact open access journals. Where does this leave African researchers who earn too little (personal income or research grants) to publish in such top-tier open access journals? Already, Africa contributes much too little (1.3% in one estimate) to research publication output globally, of which 52% are accounted for by just three middle-income countries—South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.

The local and global challenges that limit the publication and citation potential of African researchers are well known. For example, at the local level, there are very few full-time researchers (5 per million people in low-income countries vs 363 per million people in high-income countries), with weak investment in research (and academic writing) capacity, research infrastructure and research governance. And at the global level, there are exploitative international research collaborations, gender constraints affecting female researchers and inability to attract global research funding. Now, APCs are systematically excluding African researchers from publishing in high-impact open access journals. Researchers in Africa are typically not in a position to win or have access to grants that cover APCs as eligible research expenditure.