Medical editors pledge support for African journals
A group of African medical editors has set up a forum to support and strengthen medical journals in Africa.
The forum, known as FAME [Forum for African Medical Editors], will be chaired by Dr James Tumwine of Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, who is editor of the journal African Health Sciences. FAME was set up last week at a meeting in Geneva convened by the World Health Organization to discuss how information published in African journals can be disseminated more widely.
Currently, most of the medical literature published in Africa is not widely visible. Difficulties in journal production, coupled with huge distribution problems, mean that dissemination within individual countries is poor and across the continent as a whole is even worse. In addition, the African Index Medicus, an online resource for African health research, has all but collapsed.
Globally, access to African journals is limited by the fact that few are indexed in Medline, although access is possible to some via African Journals On Line and on CD Roms via
Better information exchange between developing countries, and between developing and developed countries, is widely seen as crucial for health development. Free access to the international (and predominantly northern, developed world) medical literature in the worlds poorest countries has been dramatically opened up, most notably by the HINARI initiative (BMJ 2001;323;65), which went live in January. Under this, a consortium of medical journals, including the BMJ, agreed to allow free access to their literature to developing countries.
What is missing, however, is good information exchange between less developed countries (South South exchange) and good exchange between them and developed countries (South North).
Improving access to locally relevant information was a priority, said Dr Daniel Ncayiyana, editor of the South African Medical Journal. Much of the information in the international journals is not useful for African healthcare workers, he told the meeting.
Several other speakers agreed. Local and regional African journals, it was suggested, could improve access to relevant material by attracting and disseminating the results of health services research, rather than trying to compete with other journals to publish original biomedical research. As internet access across Africa increases, it offers the possibility of opening up access to local literature by putting more journals online.
A recent questionnaire study of 109 African journals by Edith Certain, of the WHO 92s research and training in tropical disease programme, found that 29 of the 66 journals that responded have a website.
But developing desktop publishing skills and improving the production and content of journals is not easy with poor infrastructure. Several African editors underlined the difficulties of maintaining regular publication, in print or online, with inadequate financial support and appropriate managerial, marketing, technological, and editorial skills.
A key aim of the new forum will be to link up editors across Africa and define their needs for support and training in all aspects of medical publishing.
Several international organisations are poised to offer help. Pledges of support for the forum were made at the meeting by the WHO, the World Association of Medical Editors, the Council of Science Editors, the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications, the Fogarty International Centre, Latin-American medical journals online, BiomedCentral, JAMA, and the BMJ.
Further information is available by emailing Edith Certain , information officer at the WHO's special programme for research and training in tropical diseases.
(Source: Tessa Richards, BMJ 2002;325:922, 26 October 2002)