Amplifying the voice of African medical research

Friday, February 1st, 2019

Elsevier volunteers connect editors of the Rwanda Journal of Medicine and Health Sciences to journalists

Press conference for a new breast cancer study (left to right): Dr. Gilles Francois Ndayisaba, Division Manager, Non Communicable Diseases, Rwanda Biomedical Center (Ministry of Health); Dr. Pamela Meharry; Dr. Ainhoa Costas Chavarri; Cheryl Mutabazi; Constance Mukankusi-Gateja, BCIEA Outreach Officer and Trainer; and several reporters.Press conference for a new breast cancer study (left to right): Dr. Gilles Francois Ndayisaba, Division Manager, Non Communicable Diseases, Rwanda Biomedical Center (Ministry of Health); Dr. Pamela Meharry; Dr. Ainhoa Costas Chavarri; Cheryl Mutabazi; Constance Mukankusi-Gateja, BCIEA Outreach Officer and Trainer; and several reporters.

Run a search on “breast cancer and Rwanda” on PubMed and you will find just 19 documents. Search for “breast cancer and United States,” and you will get close to 70,000 documents. Granted, Rwanda has only 12 million inhabitants and the US has more than 300 million, but even a search for “breast cancer and Africa” yields only about 2,300 documents.

Based on these numbers, you might suppose that breast cancer is less of a problem in Rwanda or Africa as a whole than in the US, but the opposite is true. Breast cancer mortality rates in Africa exceed those in the US, even though its incidence in Africa is less than half what it is in the US.

Why so little research, then? Or is that really the case? The answer is complex, and it’s not specific to breast cancer research. Part of the problem is not that research doesn’t get done but that it doesn’t always get noticed. Thankfully, the African Journal Partnership Program (AJPP), in collaboration with the Elsevier Foundation’s Research Without Borders program, is working to address both the paucity of African research and its visibility.

This summer, I spent two weeks as an Elsevier Foundation volunteer at the Rwanda Journal of Medicine and Health Sciences in Kigali. While there, I saw first-hand that important research is in fact being published in Africa, but it doesn’t always make it to the global — or even the local — stage. So I set out to change that, if only with one example.