The impact of the open access movement on medical based scholarly publishing in Nigeria
First Monday

The impact of the open access movement on medical based scholarly publishing in Nigeria by Alasia Datonye Dennis



Abstract
The open access movement and its initiatives — which advocate a shift from predominant print–based publication to electronic and Internet sources — is expected to improve the global distribution of scholarly research and impact positively on the current state of scholarly publications in the developing world. This review examines the current state of medical journals in Nigeria and assesses the impact of the open access movement and its initiatives on medical scholarly publishing in Nigeria. The resulting appraisal shows that open access initiatives have impacted positively on medical scholarly publishing in Nigeria, with the African Journals Online and the African Index Medicus projects being the most significant influences. There are enormous prospects for further developing medical scholarly publishing in Nigeria using open access initiatives; these opportunities should be exploited and developed.

Contents

Introduction/Background
Objectives of this review
The state of medical scholarly publishing in Nigeria before the advent of open access
The impact of open access on medical scholarly publishing in Nigeria
Obstacles to the growth of open access in Nigeria and recommendations
Conclusion

 


 

Introduction/Background

The function and status of scholarly publishing in developing countries

Scholarly publishing is recognized as an important and practical means of developing the knowledge and skills required in any country to accelerate its growth and socio–economic development (Ramachandran and Scaria, 2004). Because of these important roles, the generation, distribution and assimilation of scholarly publications in various disciplines is thus indispensable. It is therefore important for every country to have resources through which it can assess its output of scholarly publications. In one way, the quality and quantity of scholarly journals can be used as an index for measuring the extent of scholarly activity in any given country (Hussein and Priestley, 2002).

The contribution of research and scholarly publishing to the socioeconomic development of Nigeria as well as other developing countries is acknowledged to be low (Chan, et al., 2005). This is attributed to low levels of funding for research and weak research capacity (Chan, et al., 2005). These factors lead to low output of scholarly publications and a dependence on the developed world for scientific information. Hence there is an imbalance in the output and flow of scientific information between developed and developing countries.

This imbalance in the output and flow of scientific information between the developed and the developing countries is supported by data. The majority of cited scientific publications originate from developed countries while scholars in developing countries account for less than 2.5 percent of the world’s schoalrly literature; only two percent of the 3,000 journals cited in MedlinePlus (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/) originate in the developing world (King, 2004; Smith, 2002). Correspondingly only 10 percent of the world’s health research occurs in the developing world wherre in addition there are routinely small numbers of subscriptions to scholarly journals (Aronson, 2003).

It is therefore evident that for developing countries to attain development goals — which have been articulated in the millennium development goals (MDGs) and efforts to provide health information for all by the year 2015 (Goldee, et al., 2005) — there is need for the implementation of initiatives which will increase research activity and the output of scientific information, while simultaneously providing for the exchange of scientific information with the developed world. The open access movement and its initiatives currently provide a means to achieve these objectives.

The current situation and requirements of medical scholarly publishing in Nigeria

Though scholarly publications may appear in print, digital, or hybrid forms, conventional printing of textbooks and journals still remains the major mode of scholarly publishing in Nigeria (Ramachandran and Scaria, 2004; Aguolu and Aguolu, 1998). While Nigeria has witnessed a relative proliferation of medical journals, there is a gross shortage of university– or institution–based medical books (Aguolu and Aguolu, 1998; Olanlokun, 1985). Consequently medical journals are the predominant modality of medical scholarly publishing in Nigeria as they provide a quick and regular medium through which scholars can exchange information and acquire continuing medical education (Ramachandran and Scaria, 2004). iIn addition the content of Nigeria’s medical journals provides an assessment tool of research for promotion and tenure in tertiary institutions (Adomi and Mordi,2003).

In spite of journals being the major mode of medical scholarly publishing in Nigeria the international impact of these journals is low due to the poor visibility outside Nigeria (Ramachandran and Scaria, 2004; Arunachalam, 2003). While Nigerian medical journals are little known outside of the country resulting in low impact factors, these journals have considerable impact in a different context within Nigeria. They provide a major and efficient source of continuing medical education within Nigeria (Ramachandran and Scaria, 2004). These journals also address the information needs of the population by providing a reliable source of up–to–date vital information for medical professionals in both urban and rural areas. As a result these journals contribute immensely towards maintaining the health of the populace (Ramachandran and Scaria, 2004).

Though Nigerian medical journals provide a huge service to the medical community, it is acknowledged that their potential benefits have not been optimized (Eke and Nkanginieme, 2002). This particular situation is due to a variety of constraints associated with journal publishing in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. These obstacles for producing scholarly journals vary considerably from country to country in Africa due to the diverse and complex conditions (Hussein and Priestley, 2002). Some of these impediments include poor institutional and state funding for scholarly publication; high production and distribution costs; few subscriptions and reduced circulation; low profitably discouraging publishers; and, the preference of scholars to publish in “internationally visible journals” (Chan, et al., 2005; Adomi and Mordi, 2003). Consequently a number of medical journals originating in Nigeria are not indexed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine in PublMed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez). With the persistence of this trend, some of Nigeria’s journals are in danger of extinction (Eke and Nkanginieme, 2002; Olanokun, 1985), a situation that will seriously affect scholarly publishing in Nigeria.

Improving scholarly publishing in Nigeria and the developing world

There is certainly a need to increase access and output to research information from the developing countries. Additionally, greater access to information from the developed world is required with a need for a balance in the pool of global scholarly information (Chan, et al., 2005). These factors have motivated efforts to bridge the gap created by the imbalance in the output and flow of scholarly information between the developing and the developed countries, with an ultimate goal of providing equal access to scholarly publication for all.

The advancement of information and communications technologies (ICTs) has provided opportunity for more equitable distribution of scientific knowledge. The ideal of a global knowledge commons is now seen as an attainable goal (Chan, et al., 2005).

This has led to a paradigm shift from the conventional print publication to the use of electronic sources and especially Internet media. This transformation to digital publishing is beneficial to improving access to scholarly literature, with expectations of immense benefit to the developing world (Chan, et al., 2005; Chan and Costa, 2004). The advent of Internet publishing has provided an opportunity to improve distribution and access to research to and from developing countries (Ramachandran and Scaria, 2004; Chan, et al., 2005). Hence open access is critical to improving the current state of scholarly publishing in the developing world (Chan, et al., 2005).

 

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Objectives of this review

This paper attempts to provide an insight into the current state of medical journal publishing in Nigeria as well as review the effect, challenges and opportunities provided by the open access movement to the growth of medical journals in Nigeria. This paper will also examine obstacles to open access in Nigeria and suggest recommendations to optimize the benefits derivable from open access to medical scholarly publishing in Nigeria.

 

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The state of medical scholarly publishing in Nigeria before the advent of open access

In advance of open access, medical journal publishing in Nigeria was at risk of extinction. An assessment of the state of medical journals in Nigeria by Eke and Nkanginieme (2002) examined 28 Nigerian medical journals. This survey exposed a number of problems.

Subscriptions to these journals by medical institution libraries in Nigeria was abysmally low, with only one institution — Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH) Zaria — claiming 21 of the 28 journals in its collections, even though there were many missing issues. None of the surveyed journals were in the collections of the libraries of the University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan and University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) Enugu, two of the foremost medical colleges in Nigeria. In addition very few of the medical libraries had a proper subscription list of Nigerian medical journals. It is common in many Nigerian medical libraries to find sporadic holdings of various journals, local or international.

Very few medical journals were indexed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Some of the indexed journals were the Nigerian Postgraduate Medical Journal (NPMJ), African Journal of Medical Science (AJMSc), and the Nigerian Journal of Medicine (NJM). Irregularity in publication and poor Internet awareness were identified as reasons for journals not been indexed or for those already indexed journals to lose their listing.

Most Nigerian medical journals did not have functional Web sites or e–mail contacts. Consequently communications were limited to surface mail or courier. Online submission of articles was a rare occurrence. This situation led to a slow and inefficient system of peer review. The absence of online communication between journal editors, authors and reviewers also contributed to additional operational costs for these journals.

While Nigerian medical journals have had low impact factors internationally, there was no mechanism to determine the impact factor of these journals within Nigeria. As a result there was no objective assessment of the quality of medical journals so rating them is difficult. The absence of online access to journals and a lack of archives at institutional and other levels were additional impediments in this regard. In addition, there were prevalent issues regarding production and content quality as well as financial sustainability.

 

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The impact of open access on medical scholarly publishing in Nigeria

The advent of open access has made a significant impact on medical journals in Nigeria. From my experience as an editor of a medical journal the most significant influence on medical scholarly publishing in Nigeria are two projects — African Journals Online (AJOL) and African Index Medicus (AIM).

The African Journal Online (AJOL) initiative, operated by International Network for the Advancement of Scientific Publication (INASP), was designed to increase the visibility of African journals by making their abstracts globally available through the INASP Web site as well as delivering full–text material on request, free to participating countries and at cost to others (see http://www.ajol.info).

AIM was established in order to give access to information published in or related to Africa and therefore encourage local publishing. It is an index of African health literature set up by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in collaboration with the Association for Health Information and Libraries in Africa (AHILA). This promotes African publishing by encouraging writers to publish in their country or regional journals. This initiative promotes south–south and south–north communication complementing the usual north–south flow of scholarly communication. It provides alternative access for scholarly expression for scientists and researchers in developing countries who are competing for publication space in the seemingly inaccessible world–wide “prestigious” journals (see http://www.indexmedicus.afro.who.int).

The advent of AJOL and AIM has helped to solve some problems hitherto experienced by medical journals in Nigeria. As a result of these projects most Nigerian medical journals now have Internet visibility via AJOL and AIM. There are 43 Nigerian medical journals listed in AJOL out of total number of 271 journals in various academic areas and 37 Nigerian medical journals in AIM out of a total of 104 listed or indexed journals.

In order to achieve this most journals now have functional Web sites and have improved their use of Internet resources for operational purposes. Increased online visibility has made it easier for medical scholars within and outside Nigeria to examine Nigerian medical publications compared to their inaccessibilty in the past. Hence these resources, especially AJOL, provide a platform for revenue for these journals.

AJOL and AIM have resulted in an increase in requests for archival content from the Nigerian Journal of Medicine. There has also been an increase in the submission of new articles for review from scholars outside Nigeria as well as the recruitment of editorial advisers and peer reviewers from outside Nigeria (see Table 1).

 

Table 1: Impact of open access on the visibility of the Nigerian Journal of Medicine
(July 2006 – 1 July 2007).

Source: Nigerian Journal of Medicine records, 17 July 2007.
Place or countryRequests for
published articles
Submission of article
for publication
Editorial appointment
India111
Kosovo 3 
South Africa11 
Congo Brazzaville 31
United Kingdom4  
Germany5  
United States3  
New Zealand1  
Egypt1  
Brazil1  
Switzerland1  

 

An increase in the level of interaction between authors within Africa and other continents is another positive impact of open access initiatives on medical scholarly publishing in Nigeria. This development is expected to promote much needed south–south cooperation as well as improve the south–north flow of information.

The open access movement has been beneficial to individual medical scholars who have published in the NJM and other Nigerian medical journals. This is a result of the increased volume of direct correspondence with medical scholars in other parts of the world with similar research interests based on online access to NJM.

 

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Obstacles to the growth of open access in Nigeria and recommendations

While the benefits of open access to medical journals in Nigeria are impressive, the trend should be viewed with cautious optimism as there are many obstacles which need to be addressed for these gains to be sustained and increased. It will be necessary to see how long open access can be sustained in Nigeria as well in other developing countries. In the past, the transfer of new technologies from developed to developing nations has occurred in the absence of an infrastructure to sustain and utilize these technologies. In addition there has been a lack of assessment in the past of the relevance of new technologies to the peculiar needs of developing countries.

The obstacles to optimizing and strengthening open access in Nigeria include the poor level of awareness of open access among medical scholars in Nigeria and other parts of the developing world (Ramachandran and Scaria, 2007). To address this situation there is need for awareness programmes to spread the message of open access among scholars in Nigeria. This increase in awareness will strengthen advocacy for the spread of open access.

In my opinion it is still too early to advocate for primary electronic medical journals (e–journals) in Nigeria as the capacity, infrastructure and funding required for these journals are not widely available. A hybrid model, where both print and digital versions co–exist, should be adopted to strengthen the status of medical publishing and gradually enhance and promote digital medical scholarship.

Institutional–based collaboration to develop Internet–based archives of scholarly work is lacking in Nigeria as there is no record of any registered open access initiative (OAI) compliant archive. The creation of these archives in Nigeria will eventually provide a database of reliable medical information online. Medical institutions in Nigeria need to be encouraged to develop open archives since they can provide immediate benefits to the populace of developing countries (Chan, et al., 2005).

Presently there are no coordinated initiatives, either public or private, to promote open access in Nigeria. A comprehensive national policy supporting open access needs be formulated in Nigeria. This policy would make an assessment of the current situation, assess the developmental needs of open access and outline realizable objectives and goals within a reasonable time frame. This policy should also serve as a guide for local open access initiatives at institutional and regional levels.

The support of the government and its agencies for research and scholarship in Nigeria is poor. It is important for the Nigerian government to encourage, promote and support open access through funding and legislation.

Peer review and scholarly assessment among medical scholars in Nigeria need to be reformed in order to create an environment that will support open access. Currently peer assessment inhibits collaboration among medical scholars; it should be discarded in favor of objective methods and techniques.

Scholars need to understand how their intellectual property can be protected with open access. Publishers need to be educated about the advantages of open access in order to diversify their financial opportunities (Kaniki and Mphahlele, 2002). It is therefore important for Nigerian, and indeed other scholars in the developing world, to become aware of the enormous benefits of open access.

 

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Conclusion

Open access has had a significant and positive impact on medical scholarly publishing in Nigeria, with the AJOL and the AIM projects being the most significant. The prospects for further development of medical scholarly publishing using open access initiatives are enormous. However in spite of the gains made, the potentials of open access to medical scholarly publishing are yet to be maximized. Medical scholars in Nigeria need to develop a coordinated plan to overcome many of the current obstacles. It is evident that open access will provide enormous opportunities and benefits to the medical scholars in Nigeria. End of article

 

About the author

Dr. Datonye Dennis Alasia is a Physician at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, Port Harcourt in Rivers State, Southern Nigeria. Dr. Alasia served as the Editor–in–Chief to the Nigerian Journal of Medicine from September 2004 to January 2007. He currently serves as an editorial adviser to the Nigerian Journal of Medicine and is involved in various initiatives to promote online journal publishing and open access in Nigeria.

 

Acknowledgements

I acknowledge the assistance of the editorial board of the Nigerian Journal of Medicine for its support in providing the necessary information for this review.

 

References

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Contents Index

Copyright ©2007, First Monday.

Copyright ©2007, Alasia Datonye Dennis.

The impact of the open access movement on medical based scholarly publishing in Nigeria by Alasia Datonye Dennis
First Monday, volume 12, number 10 (October 2007),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue12_10/dennis/index.html





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