Publishing in local journals may be best for sub-Saharan researchers, says study

January - February, 2009  |  Volume 8, Issue 1

African researchers look into microscopes
Photo by Bonnie Gillespie,
Courtesy of Photoshare

African researchers examine malaria-
infected blood stains

Research institutions in sub-Saharan African should encourage their scientists to publish in national peer-reviewed journals, which often have greater impact on medical outcomes than the more prestigious European and North American publications, says Fogarty’s Dr. Karen Hofman.

Writing in the Journal of the Medical Library Association, Hofman, director of international science policy, planning and evaluation, surveyed 10 years of publications from sub-Saharan African first authors and found that a majority publish in international journals.

“The reasons for this are complex and vary from one country to another,” wrote Hofman and her colleagues from the National Library of Medicine Dr. Barbara Rapp and Sheldon Kotzin. Co-author Christine Kayengo is chief librarian at the Medical School of Zambia in Lusaka and was a visiting fellow at NLM at the time the study was done.

“Researchers may target international journals preferentially because they frequently assume that publication in international journals, rather than national journals, is the single most important factor in the promotion policies at most in-country academic institutions,” they concluded.

The presence of sub-Sahara African first authors in Medline-indexed journals grew by 41 percent over the decade ending in 2005. Of the SSA first authors indexed in MEDLINE, the NIH bibliographic database, 40 percent came from South Africa, followed by Nigeria (16 percent) and Kenya (7 percent).

“National journals in the developing world are important because they have been shown to influence practice more than information published in North American or European journals,” Hofman said. “Communicating health research data regionally in areas with shared diseases and local conditions is also likely to be effective with respect to improving health outcomes.”

Use of country-specific journals costs less and may be more accessible to health care workers, and “In resource-poor settings, the gray literature (i.e., research results that appear in monographs and reports) also plays a critical role,” the article contends.

The authors recommend that sub-Saharan research institutions consider changing their practice of relying only on high-profile international publication in promotion and tenure decisions, giving equal weight to national journals indexed in credible databases such as MEDLINE.

“Mapping the health research landscape in Sub-Saharan Africa: a study of trends in biomedical publications.” KJ Hofman, CW Kanyengo, BA Rapp and S. Kotzin. J Med Libr Assoc. 2009 Jan;97(1):41-44.

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