India’s Medical Literature Landscape – A New Dawn

Thomas Mathew,a Anoop Amrith Lalb

a.  Department of Community Medicine, Government Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram;  b. Department of Community Medicine, Melmaruvathur Adhiparasakthi Institute of Medical Sciences (MAPIMS), Tamil Nadu

Medicine is as old as man. Even though indigenous systems of medicine have existed in most civilizations since antiquity, it is modern medicine that has revolutionised healthcare for the last two and a half centuries.

Modern medicine began to evolve as an objective science during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which saw huge population migrations to cities in the wake of the industrial revolution. Public health measures were employed for the first time in attempts to control outbreaks of diseases among migrant workers living in paltry conditions. Pasteurisation, vaccination and sanitisation came to be used as methods of disease prevention, long before microbes were identified as causative agents.1

Use of systematic scientific enquiry as a tool for gathering medical information was heralded by the works of John Snow on cholera, for which he is known as the father of Modern Epidemiology.2 Since then, medicine has come a long way in the methodical collection and compilation of information; leading to exponential growth in the quantum of medical knowledge over the past century. Today we live in an era of information explosion in which, evidence based medicine is changing by the minute, posing enormous challenge to the pursuers of the profession.

Never has been before a time in the history of medicine when channels for the prompt and accurate sharing of medical knowledge were needed as they are now. At a time when thousands of journals exist in the print and digital domains, practitioners and researchers all over the world are still looking for dependable resources for obtaining and sharing new medical knowledge.

In the print era, medical journal publishing was monopolised by a handful of publishing houses whose names become synonymous with medical journalism. Riding the waves of their exclusivity they maintained high premiums on the sharing as well as accessing ends of medical publishing. Knowledge sharing in the field of medicine remained the prerogative of a select few for a very long period of time.

With the advent of the internet, sharing of knowledge had become easy, but the rapid mushrooming of online journals, many with poor content and editorial quality, made it difficult to discern between the good, the bad and the ugly. So authors as well as readers kept going back to the established journals.

But things changed at the onset of this century, with the establishment of the Public Library of Science (PLOS) and mainstreaming of the Open Access philosophy, by a team led by eminent biologist and Nobel laureate, Harold E. Varmus.3 This development ushered in a new era in the field of scientific publishing where researchers and authors assumed control over the knowledge that they helped create. This paradigm shift not only allowed good journals in the open access domain gain popularity, but also forced many of the established journals to adopt open access or delayed open access policies. Independent researchers had finally found a new ray of hope to bring their research findings to public domain.

Notwithstanding the explosive growth in global medical literature output over the past decade, the contribution from India has remained dismal. In 2012 Acta Medica Iranica published an eye opening report that listed 50 leading countries by quantity and quality of medical research published over a period of 15 years between 1996 and 2010.4 India simply does not figure in that list, while third world countries like Grenada, Malta and Barbados do!

Figuring out why one of the leading developing countries of the world fares so poorly in medical literature output is a topic that needs serious explorations. But there definitely seems to exist a vicious cycle, that mars medical research in India. On one end we have a policy framework that does not adequately reward research initiatives in the profession and on the other end we have an underlying apathy among the medical fraternity towards research that fails to drive policy change.

Academic Medical Journal of India envisages breaking this vicious cycle. More than a publishing platform, AMJI is a community of enlightened medical academicians working together with the purpose of creating an enduring research culture among the medical fraternity of this country.

In addition to full open access publishing of medical literature, AMJI seeks to serve on the following fronts:

  1. Be an advocacy mouthpiece for policy change towards promoting quality medical research in the country.
  2. Provide consultancy services to established researchers and mentorships to budding researchers, from planning to publishing stage of research.
  3. Aggregate information about funding and grants available in different domains of medicine and enable researchers to apply for the same.
  4. Provide resource materials on research methodology, statistics and other areas of medical research.
  5. Conduct workshops and training programmes for professionals looking to develop their research skills.
  6. Provide exclusive platforms for medical institutions to showcase their research works.
  7. Drive innovations in the field of medical research and publishing.

Achieving success on all these fronts is never going to be an easy task. But it is certain that if we put together our efforts, we are not far from a time when our great nation tops any list on medical research. In this direction, we begin by publishing a few path breaking research works that addresses the health problems of this country.

Let’s work together to herald a new era of medical research publishing in India.

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References

  1. George Rosen. Health in a Period of Enlightenment and Revolution In: A History of Public Health, The John Hopkins University Press, 1910. p. 107-167
  2. John Snow, B. W. Richardson, Wade Hampton. Snow on Cholera. Hafner Publishing Company, New York and London, 1965
  3. Adam, David. Scientists Take on the Publishers in an Experiment to Make Research Free to All. The Guardian, 6 October 2003.
  4. Jazayeri, S., Alavi, A., Rahimi-Movaghar, V. Situation of Medical Sciences in 50 Top Countries from 1996 to 2010 – Based on Quality and Quantity of Publications. Acta Medica Iranica, Tehran, Iran, 50, Apr. 2013.

Author Information

  1. Dr. Thomas Mathew, MBBS, MD, MBA, Professor of Community Medicine , Medical College, Trivandrum and Chief Editor, AMJI
  2. Dr. Anoop Amrith Lal, MBBS, MD, DPH, Associate Professor, MAPIMS, Tamil Nadu and Editor, AMJI

 

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