Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 29, December 2001 


Strengthening biomedical publishing in developing countries

seminar held at the BMA House, London, November 2001

Sulaiman Adebowale
Sulaiman Adebowale is Editor, Bellagio Publishing Network

A one-day seminar on the role of international commercial and non-profit publishers in strengthening biomedical publishing in developing countries was organised by the INASP-Health Information Forum in London on 20 November 2001. The seminar gathered about thirty participants from biomedical publishing, professional and non-governmental organisations, mainly from the UK and three publishers from Nigeria and Vietnam.

James Falaiye, Managing Editor, African Journal of Reproductive Health (AJRH) published by the Women's Health and Action Research Centre based in Benin City, Nigeria, made a presentation on the priorities of biomedical journal publishers in Africa. Using the experience of the AJRH, Falaiye traces its efforts at maintaining a viable indigenous scientific publishing outfit in Nigeria. He touched on the enormous challenges being faced and efforts needed to support indigenous publishing in Africa. The need to find ways of surmounting the problems becomes more pertinent when looked at in the context of the African Journal of Reproductive Health, which was published and managed in the United States by Harvard University Press until 1999 when its management and production were transferred to Nigeria. [See p. 7 for a brief discussion of the journal in this issue of the newsletter.]

The second lecture delivered by Ian Bannerman (Blackwell Publishing, UK) looked at what Blackwell and other international commercial publishers have been doing to ensure that biomedical journals are available and accessible to researchers and health practitioners in the developing world. These efforts have included discouraging barriers to authorship, promoting both print and online readership, and supporting local networks for distribution of their journals.

The third and final presentation by Elizabeth Dodsworth (CAB International) provided the perspective of a non-profit organisation working towards improving access to reliable information for healthcare workers in developing countries. She discussed how, despite being governed by the complexities of an intergovernmental organisation, CABI has strived to meet the capacity-building needs of developing countries (which largely make up its membership) under a global development programme. It has been involved in various initiatives in the dissemination of agricultural research in collaboration with regional bodies and development assistance agencies.

The various debates and discussions at the seminar do project a willingness to redress the ever-growing information gap between the developed and developing world. Various initiatives from different actors were touched upon - which in a sense are not novel in strategy but, unlike others before, more in line with the IT age, e.g., PERI, Health Internetwork, and - which are geared towards improving the access to information for health professionals and researchers.

However, the validity of these various efforts will be undermined if, as Sally Morris, Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), rightly signalled at the start of the gathering, they do not strengthen indigenous publishing. The question is more than providing researchers in the developing world with the state-of-the-art content in mainstream science published in the developed world. It includes ensuring that scientific content is produced efficiently locally and distributed effectively at home and abroad.

Secondly, the current focus of these initiatives is indirectly detrimental to the overall objective of research publishing as a tool for development. Most programmes focus on science and medical publishing, leaving out scholarly publishing and research in, for instance, the social sciences and humanities, and in so doing not just stimulating a chasm between academics in the various fields, but also undermining the benefits of knowledge that may accrue from a developed multidisciplinary research publishing. The developmental impacts of cross-disciplinary knowledge have been known to be invaluable to resolving health and socio-economic issues if ideas from the natural and social sciences and humanities are collectively harnessed effectively.

Thirdly, publishing in the developing world, scholarly journal publishing in Africa in particular, is arguably not yet fully developed enough to warrant a separation of initiatives to strengthen it. Scholarly publishers in the biomedical sciences in Africa are likely to be helped the more if they can tap a favourable industry as a whole.


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