The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment

In May 2013, more than 480 researchers and 80 scientific organisations published a declaration condemning the use of the journal impact factor to measure scholarly success.  Journals and organisations such as Science, Proceedings of The National Academy Of Sciences (PNAS), Times Higher Education, and Wellcome Trust are among the organisations backing this call.

The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment states the journal impact factor is misused to assess the significance of work by scientists who publish in those journals. A number of themes run through these recommendations:

  • “the need to eliminate the use of journal-based metrics, such as Journal Impact Factors, in funding, appointment, and promotion considerations;
  • the need to assess research on its own merits rather than on the basis of the journal in which the research is published; and
  • the need to capitalise on the opportunities provided by online publication (such as relaxing unnecessary limits on the number of words, figures, and references in articles, and exploring new indicators of significance and impact)”.

The first and general recommendation is:  “Do not use journal-based metrics, such as Journal Impact Factors, as a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, to assess an individual scientist’s contributions, or in hiring, promotion, or funding decisions.”

The declaration concludes that we need a cultural change where papers are mainly evaluated for their own scientific merit.

A note in Nature (2005) stated that research assessment “rests too heavily on the inflated status of the impact factor”. And the biologist Stephen Curry of Imperial College London wrote in a blog post: “I am sick of impact factors and so is science”.

South Ethiopia Network of Universities in Public Health

The Norwegian Programme for Capacity Development in Higher Education and Research for Development (NORHED) recently told us that we have been awarded the project:  South Ethiopia Network of Universities in Public Health (SENUPH): improving women’s participation in post-graduate education. 

The vision of this project is to enhance the capacity of universities in south Ethiopia to train sufficient staff for the Region to carry out essential public health work, and do essential research to improve the health of the people living in South Ethiopia. This will be carried out by:

  • Establishing, and strengthening a network of the main universities in south Ethiopia doing teaching so the universities can increase their teaching capacity and train enough staff to meet the demands within the public health sector.
  • Substantially increasing the number of women with postgraduate education
  • Increasing the number of teachers at the universities in public health.
  • Strengthening the research capacity through PhD and Master’s programme so the research done in the region will aid in defining the future health policy.

This project has four integrated parts:

  • A PhD programme for all universities and located at Hawassa University
  • A master programme in Maternal and Reproductive health at Dilla University
  • A master programme in Nutrition at Wolaita Soddo University and
  • A master programme in medical entomology (malaria control) at Arba Minch University).

By developing a network of the main universities in south Ethiopia we will address several important areas such as staff development, and enhance the human capacity in higher education, in public health, reproductive health, and nutrition and malaria control.

The Southern Nations, Nationalities  and Peoples Region in Ethiopia has a population of about 16 million people, representing  more than 50 ethnic groups that live in a variety of geographic and socioeconomic areas. The area is typical of Ethiopia with high population densities, high fertility and child mortality rates, and high maternal death rates.

South Sudan Medical Journal

On July 9th, 2011 South Sudan becomes an independent state. An historic day for South Sudan and for Africa. Most of the population in South Sudan have only experienced war. The country has the highest matenal mortality rates in the world (over 2.000 per 100.000 births).

During the last days I have attended “The first conference of Southern Sudan Medical Specialists”. About 70 of the existing 82 medical specialists from South Sudan attended the meeting. Many live abroad, some live in Northern Sudan and about half of them work in the south. Unfortunately, many specialists work in administrative positions. The details of an earlier survey is found here.

Although there are three medical schools in the country, none work now, mainly because of difficulties in transferring university functions from the north to the south.

The main topic discussed was to form a body to run, and to oversee medical specialist training in this new nation. I will update this page as documents are made available.

More information about the health situation in this country can is found at Southern Sudan Centre for Census, Statistics and Evaluation (SSCCSE), and from the Southern Sudan Medical Journal.

EMAPS 2011 Annual Meeting

The Ethiopian Malaria Prediction System (EMAPS)  Annual Meeting will be on Monday and Tuesday January 10 and 11 at Ghion Hotel in Addis Ababa.

We plan the meeting as an open scientific meeting, and malaria interested scientists in Ethiopia are invited to take part in the meeting.

We will have one or two lectures at the start of the workshop. Our main emphasis is on forecasting malaria epidemics, and we aim to build our scientific meeting around our modelling efforts.

We shall discuss this in thematic areas such as: mosquito dynamics and behaviour, human host infection (highland, and lowland areas), environmental (hydrology and climate/meteorology), and modelling (captures the whole or part of the information collected so far).

Hawassa University

Hawassa University is the oldest and largest university in the Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s Regional State (SNNPRS) in south Ethiopia. The University offers courses such as Medicine and Health Sciences, Natural and Physical Sciences, Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Management, Law, Business, Humanities and Arts.

A few days ago I had a meeting with about 20 staff from the University. We discussed the current status of collaboration and how to strengthen the collaboration between the Hawassa University and Centre for International Health at the University of Bergen.

I was encouraged to learn the university now is about to launch a Masters programme and a Phd programme in public health. This will be done in collaboration with the Addis Ababa Institute of Public Health.

My presentation at the meeting can be downloaded here.

Integrating education, research and health care in developing countries

Models on how to integrate health service and research varies from country to country. Recently Dzau and colleagues from Duke University wrote about the experiences of using academic health science to transform medicine. They write that 5 billion people living in developing countries have inadequacies in hygiene and economic development, and health-care access are the main causes of shortened life expectancies.

They write that academic health science centres (previous medical schools) should play an important role promoting health and economic development. New organizational forms might improve health service delivery. By integrating health services, education and research and making this a collective responsibility it is possible to transform medicine, improve health, and reduce health-care disparities.

In most developing countries there is a strict division between universities and public health service providers such as hospitals and community health programmes. Often the Ministries of Education own the universities and Ministries of Health own the health institutions. Thus, universities become places where students get their degrees, and the quality of training often lacks the practical and real-life touch. The little research that is done is often weak and does not influence practice or policy making.

I believe we need new organisational frameworks integrating education, service and research to solve the huge challenges facing health in developing countries. Such an organization, that could include external partnerships, need to set research priorities, and develop models of education, care delivery and community health programmes, and has potential to enable health transformation.

Dzau, V., Ackerly, D., Sutton-Wallace, P., Merson, M., Williams, R., Krishnan, K., Taber, R., & Califf, R. (2010). The role of academic health science systems in the transformation of medicine The Lancet, 375 (9718), 949-953 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61082-5

More time for research?

I collaborate with several Ethiopian universities. Recently, I did some Google Scholar searches on publications from some selected universities. For example, Hawassa University has 198 references, and Arba Minch University has 66 hits. By camparison, the University of Bergen had 78000 and the University of Oslo 143000 hits. Similarly, a PubMed search showed one publication from Arba Minch University and 31 publications from Hawassa University. My own, and older University in Bergen, with a similar student population as the two Ethiopian Universities had 5900 publications.

The Ethiopian Universities are young. However, after having worked with them I notice some important differences with European universities:

  1. There are few staff with research background in Ethiopia. Many university teachers are fresh graduates from universities.
  2. The teaching and administrative load on staff at Ethiopian Universities is huge. As soon as staff receive their masters or PhD degrees, they are given higher administrative positions.
  3. On the positive side, many staff are eager to learn about research, and the number of research proposals at the universities is increasing year by year.

Recently, evaluations of higher education in Ethiopia showed the students receive training of limited practical relevance. Students are not well prepared for the tasks they meet when they start their working career.

Countries such as Ethiopia, with one of the highest expected economic growths in the world in 2010, need to strengthen their universities. I believe university teachers need to get more time to do research. This would, I think, make the teaching more research based, so the students learn from research experience in Ethiopia, and not from abstract examples found in textbooks from rich countries.