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Accelerating access to biomedical evidence

Interview with Dr. Raoul Kamadjeu, in anticipation of Open Access Africa 2011

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Raoul Kamadjeu is a physician, co-founder of the Pan African Medical Journal. He is driven in all his projects by a simple motto: “Start small, but think big..!” He received his doctorate in Medicine in Cameroon and completed his MPH in Belgium (ULB). He has experienced a broad spectrum of public health practice, from the district in Cameroon to international arenas with the the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He joined CDC in 2004 through the Public Health Informatics Fellowship Program where he sharpened his expertise on information technology to help lift African public health practice into the 21st century. His expertise spans across fields as varied as epidemiology, biostatistics, informatics, communication, computer programming and project management.  Dr. Kamadjeu generously consented to answer a number of questions put to him about Open Access Africa 2011, his own journal, and access to health information in the places where he has taught and practiced medicine.

Dr. Raoul KamadjeuDr. Kamadjeu, I appreciate this opportunity to ask you questions about Open Access Africa 2011 and how this event intersects with your career. Can you briefly describe if and how you were involved in last year’s Open Access 2010 event at Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya?

Good morning Charles. It is a pleasure talking to you. To get back to your question, yes, I was involved in the last year’s Open Access 2010; as a participant. It was an interesting opportunity to hear from Biomed Central, other open access experts and publishers from within and outside Africa. The conference was happening just next door; I couldn’t miss that opportunity.

I blogged about the availability of post-conference video recordings from the 2010 event. Has this been helpful to you personally in promoting the benefits of open access?

Making the videos available online was a great idea. The entire editorial office of our journal would have loved to attend the conference, but that was not possible. The videos came as a consolation. We sincerely hope videos of the next conference will also be posted online.

Open Access 2011 will be hosted at Kwame Nkrumah University Of Science And Technology (KNUST), Ghana on October 25-26 2011. Will you be supporting this conference directly or indirectly?

I hope I will be able to personally attend or at least have one of our editors attend the conference to present the work we are doing on open access development in Africa. At PAMJ, we would like to see the conference bringing more tangible benefits to African researchers; we are currently discussing with Biomed Central to organize in the framework of the conference, a one-day workshop on scientific writing; this will equip young researchers with introductory skills on how to write and submit a manuscript to a journal. We hope the idea will materialize.

BioMed Central is providing financial and organizing support for Open Access 2011, and they are also promoting a new Foundation Membership program.  There are qualifications, including an official institutional policy in support of open access and a institutional publishing record in BMC.  Do you think this Membership program will “gain traction” and be adopted at many sub-Saharan universities?

I heard of it, but I am not yet familiar with the concept or the benefits African universities should expect from the initiative; that will be the key determinant of their adhesion. For the membership program to gain traction, it is my opinion that BMC should be looking into providing ways to address some of the key issues faced by African universities, namely access to research, status of libraries including electronic archiving, capacity building in all aspects of scientific writing and publishing, etc..

The United Republic of Tanzania is one example of a large group of sub-Saharan countries that benefit from the World Health Organization’s Research4Life program providing no-cost or low-cost access to biomedical literature from major publishers, including Springer.  In your opinion, should this program be renewed in 2015, the scheduled expiration date of the partner’s agreement?

It will be very unfortunate if it wasn’t. It is still unfortunate that access to valuable information for a researcher in a poor African hangs on the renewal of an agreement. I know there is strong activism promoting free access to research for poor countries from major publishers. We hope things will move in the right direction.

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?

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.

You may know of the co-existence of both “green” and “gold” perspectives on open access.  The “green” model suggests that every author should have a right to host a peer-reviewed final version of their article on an institutional, individual, or social network site (I myself recently put green copies of my conference presentations in www.academia.edu). Do you have experience promoting institutional repositories in sub-Saharan Africa, which would provide a facility for practicing green open access?

We are not currently involved in promoting institutional repository but we would be happy to see them grow in sub-Saharan Africa. Our feeling is that a body like African Journal Online or others, with the support of big players like BMC and Springer can work with university libraries across the continent to support this kind of initiative.

In the research field of tropical diseases, the top two impact factor journals for the recently released 2010 edition of Journal Citation Reports are both open access, PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases and the Malaria Journal from BioMed Central.  Do you see the PAMJ eventually competing for impact in this subject classification, or would you want PAMJ compared as a general medicine journal, like African Health Sciences, an open access journal produced at Makerere University and hosted at Bioline?

It is always a pleasure to see open access journals toping the Impact Factor charts; this is a clear sign that discussions on the credibility of open access journals is buried once and for all. Let me tell you something Charles, PAMJ is a new general medicine/public health journal, we are not specifically working to get an impact factor, instead we are working to become the best journal in Africa and one of the best in the world; the impact factor will come as a mark of that achievement. We have achieved a lot in 3 years, more than 1200 manuscripts received from more than 132 countries, more than 200 articles published in 2 years and more than 4000 visitors from more than 100 countries per month. But we still have a long way to go if we are to play in the same league with the journals you just mentioned in terms of quality, use of technology and financial sustainability.

Thank you for your candid and engaging responses, and I hope to meet you in the future. Please visit Yale University where I can welcome you, particularly if you are traveling between NYC and Boston.  I would be happy to come down to NYC to meet you as well.

My pleasure Charles..! Be sure I will stop by the next time I am in the NYC area.

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Sun, August 21 2011 » Uncategorized

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