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Firsts in African health research: spotlight on Dr. Lucinda Manda Taylor

One of the first female editors of the African Journal Partnership Program reflects on the challenges and milestones

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Dr. Lucinda Manda-Taylor, Editor-in-Chief of the Malawi Medical Journal, and Cynthia Clark, Director of Digital Journals at Elsevier and a Researchers Without Borders volunteer, at the annual African Journal Partnership Program (AJPP) meeting.

This month, Elsevier Connect is exploring “how science can build a sustainable future.” In January, Cynthia Clark, a Director of Digital Journals for Elsevier, traveled from New York to Malawi, where she worked closely with Dr. Lucinda Manda-Taylor, Editor-in-Chief of the Malawi Medical Journal. She caught up with Dr. Taylor in May at the African Journals Partnership Program (AJPP) meeting in San Diego.


Dr. Lucinda Manda-Taylor of the University of Malawi became one of the first women to serve as Editor-in-Chief of the Malawi Medical Journal this year. Her journal is part of the African Journal Partnership Program (AJPP), a mentoring partnership linking nine African health journals with leading US and UK journals. The aim of the collaboration is to boost impact, visibility and reach of the African journals. Dr. Taylor, a bioethicist by training, one of the only female editors in the AJPP network.

In 2016, the Elsevier Foundation launched its Research without Borders program, supporting AJPP’s efforts by helping nine Elsevier volunteers spend up to a month each visiting journals in Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Malawi. I was fortunate to work closely with Dr. Manda-Taylor during my stay in Malawi, later catching up with her at the AJPP meeting in San Diego:

Lucinda, you are, in fact, not just the first woman Editor in Chief of the Malawi Medical Journal, but one of the first in the African Journal Partnership Program. Can you tell us about the challenges and benefits of running a journal in Malawi and Africa?

Let me start by reflecting on the benefits of running a journal in Malawi. To begin with, there is a great sense of personal satisfaction in being one of the few African female editor-in-chiefs on the continent. That alone is an accomplishment. I have the opportunity to showcase the important research work that is emerging from the African content. However, the opportunity to run a journal in Malawi, and by extension, Africa presents me with a challenge. The specific challenge I want to reflect on here is irrespective of being a woman but about excellence. Because excellence on the quality of manuscripts published and the maintenance of the highest ethical standards set by the journal publishing world is what I seek to be judged on.

What are some of the toughest challenges of being a woman scientist — and a journal editor in Africa?

As is well-documented: women in academia and other research-related occupations face a higher number of hurdles toward achieving success than their male counterparts, and one such barrier is in the number of publications as well as author seniority. In many disciplines, males outnumber females in the senior ranks of researchers, and this can hinder the scholarship of women. The challenge that presents itself to me is: How can I ensure that I promote African female scholarship while maintaining excellence and integrity in my role as editor-in-chief? In other words, in my role as a female academic and journal editor, I must be careful not to use gender as a pretext for preferential treatment.

How was having a volunteer publisher beneficial for the journal?

I cannot stress enough how helpful it was to have a volunteer Elsevier publisher for the Malawi Medical Journal. Your arrival helped the editorial team implement some key tasks that will help improve our digital connection with the outside world through interactions on our website and social media pages. This objective was achieved by improving our content so that it is not only limited to receiving traffic when we upload and publish a new journal issue. Since you left, we have included a News and Features section on our website which publishes content on interesting, topical issues as well as profiling key researchers and their activities. This content, we hope, will stimulate readers to visit our site and enhance reader engagement. I think this important step will help the MMJ increase its impact factor in the coming year, despite having recently dropped down by 0.2 in the 2016 review and evaluation.

The <a href="http://www.ajpp-online.org/">African Journal Partnership Program</a> involves long term-mentoring collaborations between 9 African Journals.

"The experience of a lifetime"

If I can share my own experience, I’d have to say that the MMJ team were excellent, committed partners, and it was the experience of a lifetime. They were all always available, receptive to ideas and willing to work hard. I was proud of our detailed action list and extensive library of documentation we gathered to support our objectives. Overall, my goal is stay in close communication with the MMJ team and help the next Elsevier volunteer to transition effectively into Lucinda’s team. Volunteering with the MMJ offered me one of the most professionally rewarding opportunities of my life. It didn’t just give me a deeper appreciation of the gifts of my own life, but affirmed my belief in the power and importance of human relationships.

At the AJPP meeting (left to right): Arnie Grad, Cynthia Clark, Dr. Andrew Mataya, AJPP Co-Director Annette Flanagin of JAMA, and Dr. Lucinda Manda-Taylor.

AJPP and the Elsevier Foundation

The 2017 AJPP community pauses for a group shot during the annual meeting in San Diego, which focused on Open Science: Access, Transparency, Data Sharing and Reproducibility. The two-day event included detailed presentations and discussions to explore the challenges and opportunities facing the AJPP journal teams.

Launched in 2004, the African Journal Partnership Program involves long term-mentoring collaborations between 9 African Journals: African Health Sciences, Annales Africaines de Medecine,  Annals of African Surgery, Ethiopian Journal of Health Sciences, Ghana Medical Journal, Malawi Medical Journal, Mali Médical, Rwanda Journal Series F: Medicine and Health Sciences, and the Sierra Leone Journal of Biomedical Research. Mentor journals include JAMA, The Annals of Internal Medicine, BMJ, The New England Journal of Medicine, Environmental Health Perspectives and The Lancet.

AJPP Co-director Annette Flanagin of JAMA said: “The progress of the AJPP journals has been substantial, with the journals all having raised their visibility online for readers and authors in Africa and worldwide and the editors taking leadership positions in international organizations such as the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors and the Committee (ICMJE) on Publication Ethics (COPE).”

The Elsevier Foundation joined the partnership in 2015 to provide additional volunteer training. Ylann Schemm, Director of the Elsevier Foundation, explained: “Given our longstanding commitment to research capacity building, we were very impressed with the deep partnership support and AJPP Editors’ ambition to develop robust national and regional health journals. It struck us as a win-win and a perfect way to offer skills based volunteering, involving Elsevier colleagues who are passionate about research and development.”

Research without Borders in a nutshell

  • The partnership offers a training complement to AJPP’s mentoring program. The Elsevier Foundation is contributing a total of $204,000 to cover volunteer participation, training needs and travel grants.
  • Volunteers work on site for one to four weeks.
  • Together with the African journals, AJPP directors, mentors and volunteers, we regularly assess the training needs of the journals each year. Handover and reporting are a critical component to ensure continuity and sharing.
  • In 2017, 10 Elsevier volunteers will work with seven of the AJPP journals
  • An Amsterdam workshop for the francophone journals of Mali and Democratic Republic of Congo are planned for September 2017.

How science can build a sustainable future

This month, we are exploring “how science can build a sustainable future.” At Elsevier, we understand the power of bringing different perspectives together to fuel new approaches to global problems. We support a variety sustainability initiatives through the Elsevier Foundation and in our work as an information analytics provider.

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