off record
Shaukat Ali Jawaid

HEC policy regarding
Health Science Journals

Since independence, we have failed to make any worthwhile progress in various fields that was expected for various reasons. One of the important reasons is the role of the regulatory bodies that instead of helping, guiding and facilitating, try to create hurdles and difficulties in their respective fields and health sector is no exception. The recent decision of the Higher Education Commission regarding “Revised Publication Policies for Health Science Journals” has also come under great criticism from professional bodies of doctors like PMA as well Editors of Biomedical Journals and their professional body Pakistan Association of Medical Editors (PAME). HEC measures will not have much effect on the three medical journals published from Pakistan which enjoy Impact Factor, are covered by all the international databases as they attract lot of submissions from overseas as well and they will continue publication but, it will create lot of problems for the newly started and other existing journals. Many of them which are trying to improve their standards, are already faced with numerous problems and if some of them fail to continue their publication, it will then put more pressure on the existing three journals with Impact Factor which are already under lot of pressure and authors have to wait for too long for publication of their manuscripts.

However, HEC administration in its own wisdom, has constantly refused to listen to reasoning. They do not realize the fact that one may be a good physician, surgeon and a renowned research scientist but may not be a good Editor. Medical Journalism is a combination of Science and Art and one has to learn this art. That is why bodies like World Associations of Medical Editors (WAME), Eastern Mediterranean Association of Medical Editors (EMAME), Asia-Pacific Association of Medical Editors (APAME), American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), European Medical Writers Association, (EMWA), European Science Writers Association (ESWA), professional bodies of Editors in many countries including China, Korea, Japan, Philippines, Vietnam, Iran, Singapore, Malaysia etc., are working to improve the professional capabilities of the medical editors. They organize their conferences, training courses and Hands on Workshops for their members regularly and it has gone a long way in promoting research culture as well as scientific writing and publishing in these countries. The governments and regulatory bodies in these countries provide help, assistance, guidance and support to improve the quality and standard of biomedical, science journals but alas similar requests to regulatory bodies in Pakistan has most often fell on deaf ears.

Just look at our neighbouring country Islamic Republic of Iran. The Medical Journals Evaluation Committee in Ministry of Health which has some distinguished Medical Editors as its members has helped their journals a lot. They do not provide any grants but provide training facilities, help the journals in Indexing in international databases, provide them much needed software’s to convert manuscripts in XML files which is a pre-requisite to be covered by PubMed Central, training facilities to use Open Journal System. The result is that now many Iranian journals are covered by Clarivate Analytics known for Impact Factor, Web of Sciences and are found in Journal Citation Reports, are visible on Medline having gone there through PubMed Central. This has increased their visibility manifold thus get more citations. It has also increased Iran’s contribution to world medical literature. All this had also become possible when the Government of Iran took a policy decision in 90s, Medical Education was separated from the Higher Education, put it under the Ministry of Health and renamed it as Ministry of Medical Education and Health. Renowned medical educationists, academicians were appointed to look after undergraduate, postgraduate medical education and Research. This is the ideal solution. Let us learn from their experience but we have not yet started thinking in those directions.

It is in this background that one would like to suggest to the Higher Education Commission that till such time that we move in the right direction separating Medical Education and Medical Research from Higher Education, let them start publication of at least two science journals one in the field of social sciences and the other in medical sciences. Let them take the help of the “Experts” who have been advising them regarding their policies about Health Science Journals to edit and publish these journals. It will have a dual advantage. Firstly it will offer opportunities to the Pakistani authors to publish their research work in journals which enjoy support and patronage of HEC and secondly it will also help them learn the tricks of the trade. Let them publish these journals for a few years on regular basis, get them indexed in Medline, PubMed Central, Scopus and all other important international databases besides getting an Impact Factor. Let them offer free publication to the authors or ask for subsidized publication charges. They will soon realize how difficult, frustrating and stressful is the job of editing and publishing a good quality peer reviewed journal in developing countries faced with financial and human resource constraints. Perhaps that is the best way they will learn all that. Only then they will come to know the ground realities. It will also help them to plan realistic policies and guidelines in future. Let us hope they will accept this challenge.

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