The East African Health Research Journal Author Spotlight: Dr. Blandina Mmbaga
East Africans face distinct and often dire health threats. There is a great need for regionally-driven public health research on these and other topics. East African scholars seeking to publish their findings in international journals face challenges, however, such as limited funding opportunities or English-language skills.
To address these challenges, the East African Health Research Commission (EAHRC), with support from USAID Kenya and East Africa and the Knowledge for Health (K4Health) Project, founded The East African Health Research Journal, a no-fee, open-access, peer-reviewed publication that aims to serve as a much-needed, African-led platform for untapped perspectives on regional health issues, as well as a launch pad for young and aspiring East African scholars.
I reached out to Dr. Blandina Mmbaga, a contributor to the Journal’s first two issues, to learn how this publication will benefit researchers in East African Community (EAC) countries as well as health research in the region. Dr. Mmbaga is the Director of Kilimanjaro Clinical Research Institute in Tanzania. A lightly edited version of our interview is recounted here.
Tell me about your background and work. What is your research focus and what drew you to those topics?
Dr. Mmbaga: I am a medical doctor (pediatrician) and public health epidemiologist. My research focuses on reproductive, maternal, and newborn health and infectious disease. My interest in infectious disease started with HIV—I first established a pediatric clinic and later a clinic for HIV infected teens/adolescents. I then wrote my master’s thesis on Cryptosporidium infection among children with and without diarrhea. I have been engaging and leading HIV and TB clinical trials in pregnant women and children for several years as a site Principal Investigator (PI) and this had been my main area of infectious disease research. More recently, my research has extended to zoonoses and NCDs (cancer and cardiovascular diseases). I am driven to a multidisciplinary disease approach in response to current needs. Infectious disease has been a major priority in the past, but now with changing trends where our countries are facing a double burden, we need to expand our expertise to NCDs as well.
How did you become involved with the journal? What made you want to get involved?
Dr. Mmbaga: I learned about the journal from an announcement sent to our institution by the EAC Secretariat and the National Institute for Medical Research. I thought this would be the best opportunity for us to publish our activities in a journal that is a) open-access, b) focusing on what is happening within East African countries, and c) learning from others and sharing what we have. Since our geographical areas are so similar, it’s easy to translate findings and replicate as needed. Additionally, I see the journal as an avenue for young African researchers to learn and submit their own work. From the young investigators I have worked with and whose works have been published in this journal, [their experience] has served as a catalyst to others. I expect in the future, many more will be accessing the journal and submitting their work.
In what capacity do you contribute to the journal?
Dr. Mmbaga: So far I have contributed by submitting article manuscripts and reviewing those written by others. Sophie: Are you involved with any other journals either in EAC countries or beyond? If so, how? Dr. Mmbaga: Yes, I have submitted manuscripts to other journals, in countries outside of East Africa. I have also been reviewing manuscripts for other journals upon request when I have time to do so. Unfortunately, I do have several other responsibilities, which makes it a challenge to accept every review.
Why do you think the creation of this journal was necessary? How will it be different from existing journals in the EAC countries?
Dr. Mmbaga: This journal will be useful as it is for all East African countries and not for one country in particular. Knowledge sharing will be widespread; it is an open-access platform, and each accepted manuscript is well-edited since English can be a challenge for some contributors.
What other challenges do researchers in EAC countries face with regard to publishing?
Dr. Mmbaga: Poor manuscript-writing skills, not using best practices when submitting their work to publications, lack of time due to other responsibilities, poor English language skills, no resources to support language editor for their manuscript, and lack of knowledge about waiving of fees for open-access publications.
How will the journal benefit researchers in the EAC countries and health research in the region?
Dr. Mmbaga: It’s an avenue for sharing research findings within EAC, as well as an opportunity for collaboration since researchers can discover others with similar interests. Researchers can also avoid duplicating efforts if they know of activities already being undertaken in other countries in the region.
How would you like to see the journal evolve over the next few years?
Dr. Mmbaga: I would like to see most or all universities integrating the journal into their institutions, allowing researchers and students with good findings to make use of it. I would like to see its access and publication go beyond EAC research work and become a leading journal in East Africa. Lastly, its accessibility and quality of work should drive it to be indexed in PubMed and reputable journals specializing in health-related research.
What challenges do you anticipate the journal will encounter?
Dr. Mmbaga: Sustainability in editors and reviewers to support it. If there is no intensive advocacy for EAC countries to submit manuscripts, there may be a delay in publishing certain issues. However, if current communication and support continues, this shouldn’t be a problem.
How has your experience publishing with this journal compared to your experience with other journals?
Dr. Mmbaga: Good communication and very helpful guidance when faced with challenges. It has been easy to access the system and follow any progress. The editor has inspired me to continue publishing with this journal thanks to the supportive guidance and understanding. Overall, I have enjoyed publishing with the journal and I advocate for others to do so.
We’re thrilled to hear that working on The East African Health Research Journal has been such a positive and rewarding experience for Dr. Mmbaga. We wish the journal continued success in its goal to improve the health and well-being of the people of East Africa and the wider world.