African medical journals partner with leading journals to boost impact

Partnerships help boost the reach, quality and discoverability of African research

AJPP annual meeting with program partners and supporters in San Antonio, TexasMuch of the research done in Africa is hard to find — for scientists locally or anywhere else in the world. The numbers are promising, however:  from 1996 to 2012, scientific research papers with an African author quadrupled from 12,500 to over 52,000. Put another way, African author article share nearly doubled during this decade from 1.2 percent to 2.3 percent.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Often targeting critical local issues, African research is frequently published in unindexed local or regional journals, or it may be found languishing as a hard copy on a dusty shelf, part of vast body of African grey literature.

These days, building research capacity in Africa goes way beyond information literacy training to focus on boosting discoverability and quality of research.

Twinning African medical journals with leading biomedical journals

Dr. David Ofori-Adjei, Editor of the Ghana Medical Journal, receives a new book, Scientific Style and Format, from Dr. Tim Cross, President of the Council of Science Editors.Founded a decade ago, the African Journal Partnership Project (AJPP) is an excellent example of this trend. The program pairs African health and medical journals with leading biomedical journals from the US and UK. It was launched at a time when African researchers increasingly declined to publish in local journals. This caused a further downward trend in African publishing — already suffering from an overall lack of discoverability within the global health community.

AJPP builds editorial skills through journal mentoring and training and is supported by the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the Fogarty International Center of the US National Institutes for Health and administered by the Council of Science Editors.

Dan Gerendasy, Chief of International Programs at the National Library of Medicine, said the key achievements of the partnership have been to increase the overall quality of the publishing, submissions, visibility and sustainability of the African journals:

"It's been really impressive to see them grow a stronger online presence, develop  automated peer review submission process and, most importantly, be discoverable through indexing in Medline, Web of Science and Scopus."

Annette Flanagin, Executive Managing Editor of JAMA and Co-Director of AJPP, said that having most of these African journals included in databases such as Medline, PubMed Central, African Journals Online and Scopus "is an important achievement and will further support AJPP's goal to raise the visibility of African medical and health research throughout the world," She pointed out that two of the journals are indexed in the Web of Science, and there are plans to have the journals included in Ovid.

"Great progress has occurred over the last 10 years," said Dr. David Ofori-Adjei, Editor of the Ghana Medical Journal and Co Director of the AJPP. "However, one of the biggest challenges will be advancing the gains so far achieved and sharing the experience with more African journals."

Dr. James Tumwine, Editor of the African Health Sciences Journal, which was twinned with the BMJ, saw author submissions surge from 109 in 2005 to 686 in 2013 — an increase of over 500 percent. "AJPP has been a catalyst," he said. "And in a way, it's like an enzymatic reaction — the enzyme doesn't take active part but it is essential for speeding up the reaction."

Dr. Tumwine on the Voices of Change: the AJPP at 10 interview series by Julia Royall


Analyzing AJPP's impact over 10 years

Starting with a basic needs assessment, the partnership looked at equipment, facility and editorial needs and provided computer hardware, software, internet connectivity and training. Workshops on journal management and strategic business planning were offered. A tradition of internships was established with the African journals in order to train up the next generation of editors. Sarah Schroter, Senior Research at BMJ, developed a qualitative and quantitative review of AJPP in March 2014 and identified key success indicators:

  • Five of the six longest running journals in the partnership are now indexed in PubMed Central
  • Six of the eight are indexed in Medline and are widely accessible within and outside Africa
  • Two have Impact Factors.
  • At launch, none of the journals had websites; and now they all do, using website traffic indicating increasing national and international usage.
  • Knowledge sharing between AJPP journals has become the norm, with increasing outreach to African non partnership journals.

Evaluation of the African Journals Partnership Project (Prepared by Sara Schroter, PhD, Senior Researcher, BMJ, 25 March 2014)[divider]

Ghana Medical Journal and The Lancet

Dr. David Ofori-Adjei, Editor of the Ghana Medical Journal with Sabine Kleinert, Senior Executive Editor, The LancetThe Ghana Medical Journal (GMJ) and The Lancet were one of the original journal pairs established in 2004. "We're very proud to have had a chance to work so closely with the Ghana Medical Journal," said Sabine Kleinert, Senior Executive Editor of The Lancet. "Without a doubt, the mentoring has been a two way learning experience."

In addition, some of the more established AJPP journals have begun actively collaborating with library staff to boost their journal management. Skilled librarians are able to help authors use and find research; verify references, conform to international citation standards, copyright agreements and policies, metadata, develop websites and mobile applications; preserve digital content, detect plagiarism and provide reference management training. In 2014, many of the AJPP journals have begun to focus on broadening the reach of their research to ensure that it is effectively translated into public health policy and practice.

While AJPP has no plans to add more journals, it will continue its training outreach to other African journals. Dr. Ofori-Adjei explained, "The AJPP is not inward looking, but has always looked out to assist other journals which need help in improving their quality and managing their journals."

AJPP Co Director Annette Flanagin said that in addition to the journal partnerships, "the support of many others have been important to the success of AJPP." She mentioned mentors such as Tom Ghoel (former AJPP Co Director and Editor Emeritus of Environmental Health Perspectives) and Julia Royall (Global Health Information consultant) as well as representatives of the National Library of Medicine and Fogarty International Center, the Council of Science Editors, Thomson Reuters/Scholar One Manuscripts, SPi Global, Kaufman Wills Fusting & Company, Ovid Technologies/Wolters Kluwer-Health, CrossRef, and others.

"We are looking forward to new partnership possibilities to further support research capacity and visibility in Africa with organizations that have shared interests," she added, naming the Elsevier Foundation, the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), the Network of African Medical Librarians (NAML), and the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI).

The Partnerships: Twins and Triads

AJPP partnerships: twins and triadsIn order of formation, the first four partnerships were established in 2004, two more journal partnerships were introduced in 2008, and in 2013 two African journals were added to two established partnership to form triads. These established a new South-South information transfer dynamic.

Dr. Aiah Gbakima, Editor of the Sierra Leone Journal of Biomedical Research, said:

Partnering with other journals gives the feeling that you are not alone and helps to motivate improving the overall quality of the journal.

Related resources

Elsevier Connect Contributor

 Ylann SchemmYlann Schemm (@ylannschemm) heads Elsevier's corporate responsibility program, which focuses on advancing women in science and developing research access in the developing world. She serves as the Program Director of the Elsevier Foundation's Innovative Libraries in Developing Countries program, which supports capacity-building projects in science, technology and medicine. Ylann works closely with the Research4Lifepartnership, chairing the communications team to raise awareness and usage of these free and low cost research access programs.

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