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Infectious and parasitic diseases disproportionately wreak havoc in poor countries. But authors and editors from these nations are significantly under-represented in journals that publish research in tropical medicine.

This is the finding of a study published today in the British Medical Journal by Jennifer Keiser of Princeton University's Office of Population Research, and colleagues.

The researchers reviewed the geographical origin of contributors to leading journals that publish research on tropical medicine. The results were then related to the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI), which ranks countries according to life expectancy, education levels and income.

More than 70 per cent of editorial and advisory board members for the 12 leading journals that publish research on tropical medicine are from rich countries (with a high HDI) and just five per cent are from poor countries (with a low HDI). Five of the 12 journals have no board members from poor countries, and only one is based outside of Europe or the United States.

For the six top-rated journals, the researchers also looked at the origin of authors who published research papers between 2000 and 2002. Only 14 per cent were from poor countries. The proportion of papers in these journals generated exclusively by authors from poor countries ranged from just 1.7 per cent in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine to 7.7 per cent in Leprosy Review.

These findings contrast with the relatively common occurrence of international research collaborations between scientists in rich and poorer countries.

It is vital that researchers from developing countries can lead programmes in response to local needs, the authors say. They suggest a range of initiatives to redress the balance, including transforming research collaborations into partnerships with strong capacity-building elements, and establishing regional offices for journals that cover tropical medicine.

Tackling this imbalance in leading journals might lead to health improvements in the countries most seriously affected by infectious and parasitic diseases, they say.

Link to full research paper in the British Medical Journal by Jennifer Keiser et al

Reference: British Medical Journal 328, 1229 (2004)