African journals partnership moves forward

An NIH effort to improve the quality of African medical journals and enable global distribution of their research publications is having an impact. Known as the African Medical Journal Editors Partnership Project (AJPP), it’s a joint venture of the National Library of Medicine and Fogarty, and is administered by the Council of Science Editors. Its main goal is to strengthen African medical journals to the point they can gain acceptance to MEDLINE, NLM’s powerful bibliographic database that contains over 18 million references to journal articles in life sciences, used by researchers worldwide.

Sample cover of the journal Mali Medical

Sample cover of the Malawi Medical Journal

Three participating journals - The African Journal of Health Sciences, the Malawi Medical Journal and Mali Medicale - have been accepted to MEDLINE and the Ghana Medical Journal is expected to follow soon. Two more recent additions to the program - the Medical Journal of Zambia and the Ethiopian Journal of Health Sciences - are benefitting from lessons learned.

"My hope is that the older journals would be actively mentoring the newer ones," said Julia Royall, the initiative’s co-founder and NLM’s chief of international programs. "The question is how to make the best use of the journals that have gained experience and knowledge and also encourage their own self-sustainability."

NLM and Fogarty also plan to share best practices with the Medical Education Partnership Initiative participants, which are working to improve medical education in sub-Saharan Africa with U.S. government support. One of MEPI’s goals is to increase the number of African scientists who are senior authors on research publications.

"Getting MEPI research into these African journals would be exciting," Royall said. "I’m also hoping to build bridges with our growing network of medical librarians in Africa."

Fogarty’s MEPI program officer, Dr. Letitia Robinson, will help support the journal partnership program as co-founder Dr. Karen Hofman retires to South Africa this summer.

The project’s overall goal is to encourage wider dissemination of African health and medical research that is currently published in African journals but is not widely available to clinicians who could benefit from it.

From initial site visits, which assessed equipment and staffing needs, the effort has included the training of writers and editors, technical production issues and sustainable funding schemes. Through collaboration with partner journals in the U.S. and U.K. (see "Medical Journal Partnerships" box, right) and the Council of Science Editors, the African publications have improved considerably.

At the recent annual meeting at NIH, the African editors joined with project staff, the CSE and their partner journals to assess progress and need, discuss ways to improve visibility and plans to stage workshops to augment editorial and publishing skills. Open access was a hot topic and James K. Tumwine, editor of African Health Sciences in Uganda, was a passionate advocate: "When you make your journal open, you reap a big harvest. Put everything in there! In the future, they’ll be quoting those articles. Open access equals success."

The journal capacity building effort grew out of an earlier project, the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria, intended to enhance Internet connectivity and access to medical literature for malaria researchers in Africa.

Royall marvels at how far electronic communication and the dissemination of medical research have come. Her fervent desire is that the AJPP becomes a turnkey project, one that NLM and Fogarty can hand off and know that its future is secure.

More Information

Adapted from the May / June 2011 Global Health Matters article African journals partnership moves forward.

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