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History of the Malawi Medical Journal (MMJ)

Thengo Kavinya, Lucinda Manda-Taylor and Yohane Gadama


© 2017  The College of Medicine and the Medical Association of Malawi. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


The Malawi Medical Journal (MMJ) previously called the Medical Quarterly is a peer-reviewed, open access, quarterly journal jointly published by the University of Malawi, College of Medicine and the Medical Association of Malawi. The journal primarily serves as a forum for the dissemination of findings of health-related research from Malawi. In addition to original research studies, the journal’s content includes policy analysis, case reports, literature reviews and special features. It is the vision of MMJ to contribute to evidence-informed decision making, improve health care, encourage medical debate and promote medical publishing in Malawi and sub-Sahara Africa region. The mission statement of the journal focuses on stimulation of dialogue among researchers and health professionals in Southern Africa through information that will aid daily practice, lifelong learning, and career development.

Genesis

Editor-in-Chief Emiritus

Professor Malcolm Molyneux: Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

The MMJ, formerly called the Medical Quarterly, was founded in 1979 by Dr Malcolm Molyneux who is the current Editor in Chief (Emeritus). A specialist in internal medicine, he arrived in Malawi from UK in 1975. He mobilised medical doctors from Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) Malawi after realising that there was no vehicle that acted as an outlet for disseminating health research and audit results to medical practitioners in the country. This led to the birth of the publication now called the Malawi Medical Journal.

The Medical Quarterly catered for local authors and participants in the health service, providing a platform for facilitation of health and research publishing. It was also designed to be a teaching platform. The target for this publication was not only doctors; it also catered for nurses, clinical officers and medical assistants, and for students in these cadres – at that time there was no medical school in Malawi. In 1980, the first issues of the Medical Quarterly were published and circulated. Over the next 4 years, articles included ‘Breast Feeding – Points to Ponder’; ‘A Promising New Drug for Bilharzia’; ’My Job as I See It’; ‘The Long-term Management of Diabetes’; ‘Home-made Aids for the Handicapped‘; ‘An Evaluation of the Measles Vaccination Programme in Blantyre District’; and many more, including editorials and 2-3 Case Reports in each issue. Molyneux remained editor up to 1984, before he moved back temporarily to the UK.

 

From 1984 to 2000

The Medical Quarterly continued publishing, but not on a regular basis, up until 1991when the staff of the newly opened College of Medicine approached the Medical Association of Malawi in a bid to resuscitate the journal so that it could again become a regular publication. The revived journal was re-named ‘Malawi Medical Journal’, the aim of the College of Medicine and Medical Association of Malawi being to improve its accessibility to health practitioners and researchers in Malawi.

Over the years there has been increasing international attention to the health problems faced by Malawi. This has been paralleled by an influx of health research organizations that have an affiliation with the College. The Malawi Medical Journal became a central communication resource for all researchers involved in health work in Malawi. It was from this background that the board of the MMJ decided to expand its role so that it could act as a communication channel for dissemination of news, information and health research about Malawi. The publication was the only medical journal with a primary focus on issues of relevance to health workers and health policy makers in Malawi.

 

From 2000 to Present…

A key event in the development of the MMJ occurred in 2003 when it was one of only eight medical journals in Africa to be part of the ‘African Health Journals Partnership Project’. The other African journals in the partnership were: African Health Sciences, Ethiopian Journal of Health Sciences, Ghana Medical Journal, Mali Medical Journal with Environmental Health Perspectives, Medical Journal of Zambia, Annales Africaines de Médecine (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Sierra Leone Journal of Biomedical Research. This initiative is funded by US National Institutes of Health with the goal of improving the quality of African medical journals, increasing their visibility and encouraging local and international researchers and health professionals to submit and publish within Africa.

The MMJ is partnered with the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA). JAMA has supported the MMJ through close editorial mentoring as well as training of the MMJ editors and staff. These activities have enhanced the publication skills required to run the journal, such as selecting, editing and reviewing material. The partnership has provided direct salary support for the Managing Editor,sponsored the acquisition of an online electronic manuscript tracking and submission system (Manuscript Central) that has lessened production time, and funded computer equipment with the latest designing software that have enabled better design and layout of the journal.

In 2006 the Malawi Medical Journal launched its first website, hosted by the College of Medicine. There have been major improvements to the website in a bid to make it navigable as well as responsive; it is now hosted by USDP as www.mmj.mw.

MMJ id indexed on PubMed, Pubmed Central and Medline, after being awarded an Impact Factor by Thomson Reuters (see Figure 1) of 0.837 in 2016. These developments have increased the visibility of MMJ worldwide, and resulted in increasing submissions of both local and international articles.

The project has in the recent years sponsored monthly stipends for interns who have assisted greatly in facilitating the ever-increasing manuscript review process as well as some editorial work. The interns have also facilitated the birth of the Malawi Medical Journal Club whose mission is introducing medical and scientific publishing to upcoming researchers as well as students at the College of Medicine.

During these years, various individuals within the College of Medicine have provided leadership as Editors of the journal namely; Prof Adamson S. Muula, Dr Mzamose Gondwe, Dr Chiwoza Bandawe. The current Editor-in-Chief is Dr Lucinda Manda Taylor.

impact

Fig 1: MMJ Impact Factor -2012- 2016

 

submissions

Fig 2: Yearly Original Submissions

Over the years there have been great challenges which the MMJ has encountered. The major challenge has been on producing a high quality MMJ on a regular basis. The Medical Association of Malawi became defunct in 2007 and contributed very little to the production of the MMJ during its years. The College, although keenly supportive academically, has been unable to fund the print issue on a regular basis.

The cost of printing the journal skyrocketed and revenue collected from the sale of the journal and advertising could not sustain the print copy. The Editorial Team who work on the MMJ do it entirely on a voluntary basis, as is often the case with small journals. The salary of the Managing Editor is funded externally by the AJPP, which can also support some capital investment costs and capacity building but not recurrent costs such as printing and production.

Advertisements are a common source of revenue for most medical journals, but owing to inconsistences in the purchase of advert space (online and print), the MMJ has been struggling to generate enough income to cover the costs associated with printing an issue. In addition, the MMJ is forced to compete with a global online publishing industry whereby most medical journals offer open access (green or gold) and generate income by charging author publishing fees. This movement has seen smaller journals like the MMJ dwindle in support for print versions of an issue.

Without strong advertisement and subscription based revenues, the MMJ does not make enough to cover office costs. These challenges call upon us to explore new channels and opportunities for funding, or new mechanisms of publishing the Journal, so that it can continue its function of promoting the improvement of health care in Malawi.

The Future of the journal

MMJ is an available vehicle for national dissemination of health-related research undertaken either in Malawi or with relevance to Malawi’s health problems. It is up to the researchers and health workers to use the Journal and to improve its effectiveness. We also look towards business in Malawi to find a new, alternative market to disseminate information about their product and services by advertising with us.

Like us on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Malawi-Medical-Journal-145181585548412/, as well as find us on our twitter handle @MalawiMedJ.

 

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