In August 2011, the Malaria Journal published a 12-author study called, “Strict adherence to malaria rapid test results might lead to a neglect of other dangerous diseases: a cost benefit analysis from Burkina Faso.”
Just a few months earlier in May, the journal Health & Place published, “Malaria, environmental change, and a historical epidemiology of childhood ‘cold fevers’: Popular interpretations from southwestern Burkina Faso.”
Two similar topics, published just months apart. But they come with a big difference. The first article was published in an Open Access Journal, free and available to anyone willing to click on it and read it. The second article hails from a scientific journal published by a large conglomerate. Unless you have institutional access, which costs hundreds of dollars, you most likely must pay the publisher $31 (€22) to read the piece.
The internet opened up new methods to disseminate information and, for users, to access it. It also reduced distribution costs. But if research about diseases like Malaria continues to remain behind pay walls, Open Access proponents ask, what good is it? All over Africa, financial models from the world of print keep scientists, students and policy makers separated from new ideas and research.
David Apinga, a blogger from Ghana points out:
Currently, Sub-Saharan Africa remains the least developed region of the world in the area of research. This is partly attributed to inability of research centres in developing countries to pay for the high cost of online journal access as well as subscriptions to print versions.
Open Access scholarship also offers scientists and researchers a chance for greater collaboration. From the Open Access Central blog:
Open access offers many opportunities for scientists in the developing world – not only improved access to international scientific literature, but also the opportunity to develop (or re-develop) their own national and regional journals. Such journals have a pivotal role to play in creating the environment and infrastructure needed for research to flourish.
Open Access Week (in Africa)
Information professionals, scholars and publishers around the world are currently celebrating the fifth annual Open Access Week. Events across Africa are taking place to help solidify those gains across the continent.
The group Duraspace.org – makers of two Open Source repositories – highlight a few Open Access programs from around Africa:
- UBRISA, the University of Botswana Research, Innovation and Scholarship Archive, allowing faculty and students from the institution to place their research in a central repository where it can be stored and accessed.
- Ethiopia is home to three repositories: The Economic Commission of Africa, the International Livestock Research Institute and Addis Ababa University Library Dspace.
- KNUSTSpace, the institutional repository for the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi.
- From a European-based repository, a list of South African Open Access projects.
Benefits for Africa
In this video by Leslie Chan, Dr. Paul Nampala, Science Editor of African Crop Science Journal (ACSJ), argues that greater open access will actually increase journal readership, even if it does decrease the overall number of paid subscriptions.
Charles J. Greenberg, a Medical Librarian at Yale University in the United States, blogs at OpenBioMed.Info. He recently interviewed Raoul Kamadjeu, a physician and co-founder of the Pan African Medical Journal.
Greenberg: You are a founding editor of the Pan African Medical Journal (PAMJ). To promote the online publication of original studies from the African medical and public health communities, PAMJ will not charge article-processing fee for any accepted article submitted from African researchers or institutions or from any researcher and institution around the world. How can you afford to support this generous business model?
Kamadjeu: Yes, we do not currently charge authors fees. Our 2011 author’s survey (http://www.panafrican-med-journal.com/pamjnews/NewsArticle.php?NewsId=news4dffa0d8f2713) showed this as one of the main reasons why authors submit to us. We are able to afford this business model because we currently benefit from the generous support of the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) with which we have a memorandum of understanding; but we are not naïve, reaching financial independence is key if we want to sustain our current growth and remain a journal of continental scope. Your question brings the wider issue of the financial viability of African journals? They rely heavily on support from donors, some journals charge authors fees; it will be interesting to know how these models work for them. We are looking into traditional and innovative ideas to reach financial sustainability; article processing fees is part of the plan in the medium term; however, establishing a reputable journal remains our main priority; this will help ensure financial sustainability. I just want to add that support to African journals is important if we want to ensure that some level of medical publishing survives on the continent, particularly nowadays, with the explosion of medical journal franchises.