Editorial: The growth of Tropical Medicine and International Health: a developing-country perspective


Fred Binka, School of Public Health, University of Ghana. Accra, Ghana. E-mail: fred.binka@indepth-network.org

Tropical Medicine and International Health's (TMIH) uniqueness is that it is published on behalf of five European institutions located in Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. When it was launched in 1996, the news was received with cautious optimism, though most observers were happy that well-established institutions in Europe were able to come together to publish a journal that would focus significantly on the field of tropical medicine and international health, as clearly reflected in the journal's name. Most developing country scientists were concerned about the workability of such a laudable project. Ten years down the line, however, TMIH has demonstrated that the project has worked well. I would therefore like to congratulate the architects of this union and the various teams who have worked hard over the years to ensure the success of the Journal, and to improve its impact factor.

As stated on its website, TMIH's scope includes infectious and non-infectious diseases, parasitology, clinical diseases and medicines of the tropics, epidemiological theory and fieldwork, medical entomology, tropical public health and community medicine at all levels from village practice, and international policy. These topics are of direct relevance to the health problems of developing countries. Hence, TMIH is contributing to priority setting and helping to galvanize health research in developing countries. As Momen (2004) states, ‘scientific journals play a central role in the dissemination of research results; at the same time, the importance of scientific publication in advancing the careers of research scientists has given them – particularly the top international journals – increased possibilities to influence priorities.’

TMIH's growth in the last 10 years was very significant especially for scientists in the developing world. Glover and Bowen (2004) look at the bibliometric profile of TMIH and examine the subject content in relation to disease coverage and geographical distribution of the authorship of papers published by TMIH between 1996 and 2003. Their analysis presents Africa with the second largest representation with 517 authored papers, second to Europe having 564 papers. Combined with Asia, developing countries altogether have a 69.9% representation. In terms of citations of papers, the authors conclude that ‘African-authored papers have been cited most with 3512 citations.’ In terms of ratio of citations to papers by region, Africa is the second highest with a citation rate of 6.793, second to papers featuring UK authors with 8.079.

A quick review of 327 papers for the 2004–2005 period shows at least 60% co-authorship by developing-country scientists. This confirms Glover and Bowen's view that TMIH is ‘providing a fair and unbiased forum for authors from the developing world to publish their research.’ I dare to say that TMIH is the first international destination for scientists from the developing world.

Regarding numbers of papers by disease in TMIH for the period 1996–2003, Glover and Bowen (2004) report 329 papers covering malaria, 83 on HIV/AIDS, 83 on schistosomiasis, and 47 on TB. A review of 2004–2005 shows 91 papers covering malaria, 24 HIV/AIDS, 16 TB, and 62 other diseases such as schistosomiasis. These reviews have shown that TMIH has focused adequately on malaria and that most of the work has been done in developing countries. The publications also provide information on several other diseases that are relevant to developing countries. Regrettably, much publishable research work on HIV/AIDS and TB has not reached TMIH.

As TMIH celebrates its 10th anniversary, I would like to draw its attention to a few issues. Admittedly TMIH is a ‘European Journal’ and there are many European scientists working on developing-country health problems. However, given its scope and focus and the fact that there are many capable and reputable developing-country scientists, we expect that in the near future TMIH's editorial board will have a few more developing-country scientists, especially in the key disease areas.

TMIH should continue to encourage developing-country scientists and more papers in the important areas of TB and HIV/AIDS. As Momen (2004) states, ‘access to international health literature would be more useful if there were increased coverage by journals of topics of direct relevance to the health problems of developing countries. This requires a conscious choice by editors to favour these topics, irrespective of the country of origin of the research.’

I would also wish to see that in the next ten years of its existence, TMIH is able to assist and perhaps adopt one or two of the developing-country journals to improve on their quality and their impact factor. TMIH's editorials have over the years touched on critical public health issues. I would like to see more of the Journal taking a voice on some controversial issues of public health significance.

TMIH is freely accessible through the Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI) with WHO. This is a laudable contribution to developing countries. With the growing call for open-access online journals, which make journals even more accessible to all who have internet access, TMIH might in the future consider this as an option.

In conclusion, TMIH is on the right path. The Journal is a true symbol of European Unity, it has pulled together resources of member countries and developed an effective product that developing countries can relate to. Once again, I congratulate TMIH on its 10th anniversary and wish the team continued success for the future.