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Africa’s medical journals see rapid recovery

Six African medical science journals have witnessed an increase in the number of manuscripts they receive every year, a sign they are gaining credibility among the continent’s scientists.

The six are part of the African Journal Partnership Project, an initiative funded by the US National Institutes of Health, which kicked off in 2004 to help improve the quality of African journals.

The project started at a time when African researchers were said to be shunning local journals, preferring to see their work in international publications.

The project partnered the journals with leading publications such as the British Medical Journal and trained reviewers about what makes a high-quality paper. It also trained researchers in writing a manuscript and helped the African journals to set up an online system for manuscript submissions, reducing reliance on mailing.

Submissions have skyrocketed at the six journals: African Health Sciences (AHS), Ghana Medical Journal (GMJ), Malawi Medical Journal (MMJ), Mali Medical (MM), Ethiopian Journal of Health Sciences (EJHS), and Medical Journal of Zambia (MJZ).

AHS reported receiving 400 manuscripts last year compared with 109 in 2005. GMJ’s manuscripts jumped to 103 in 2010 from 58 in 2005, and MMJ saw the number of manuscripts more than double to 89 in 2010.

MJZ and EJHS, which joined the initiative in 2008, received 64 and 35 manuscripts in 2010, up from 40 and 27 in 2005, respectively.

The increase in submissions has resulted in greater competition for journal space, resulting in a better overall quality in the research published. The six journals have seen their acceptance rates drop from 60 per cent to 40 per cent, says Tom Goehl, AJPP coordinator.

“The decrease in the acceptance rate is a desirable outcome. When a journal has a high acceptance rate this usually means that the journal is receiving fewer manuscripts and is not selective,” Goehl says.

However, 40 per cent is still high compared to international journals, which publish only 25 per cent of the manuscripts they receive. Nevertheless, Goehl says it is an indication that the African journals are publishing the best papers.

Publishing the best papers has also helped the AHS, GMJ, MM and MMJ to be accepted in the Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLINE), a bibliographic database containing over 19 million references to journal articles in the life sciences and used by researchers worldwide. This will help the articles gain credibility, says Goehl.

“Authors tend to send their best papers to journals that are indexed by MEDLINE,” he says.

The journals’ staff back up Goehl’s claims that the project has been successful. James Tumwine, editor-in-chief of the AHS, says the NIH project has improved his journal’s visibility.

“Before, our manuscripts were limited to east Africa. Now we get papers from Nigeria, Egypt, China, India and South Africa,” Tumwine, a paediatrician and child health professor at Makerere University in Uganda, told Research Africa.

Publishing online has helped the journal double its readership from 10,000 to 20,000, he added.

The AHS has also been assigned its first Thomson Reuters impact factor, which measures the number of times an article in a journal is cited in a particular year or period. The journal’s impact factor for 2010 was 0.521, positioning it at number 108 out of 153 journals in the general and internal medicine category.