My global health journal list

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David Flood
David Flood, MD, MSc, is a physician with the Guatemalan NGO Wuqu' Kawoq | Maya Health Alliance and resident in Medicine-Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. He received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School and an MSc in international health policy from the London School of Economics.

Seshadri, T., & Nuggehalli, P. (2016). Empowering mothers. Global Health Action, 9. Licensed under CC BY 4.0.

In this post, I would like to offer some thoughts on global health journals. My goal is to assist readers of this blog who consume, create, and share global health knowledge. Staying “up to date” with the global health literature helps us make evidence-based decisions, ask critical questions, and position our experiences within a broader context.

Our time is scarce. What journals should we pay attention to? In what journals should we share our work?

Background

Let me start by conceding that my discussion of “global health journals” quickly raises a thorny existential question: What exactly is global health?

As currently conceived, “global health” is still an emerging, imprecisely defined field that has been around for less than twenty years. The most commonly cited definition emphasizes global health’s transnational and cooperative nature, as opposed to antecedents of colonial medicine and international health. Yet this characterization tends to be pretty uninspiring, runs the risk of equating the suffering of people in poor countries with those in rich countries, and does not extricate itself from allegations of neocolonialism.

Global health is often a matter of perspective. For example, for my Guatemalan friends working as physicians and nurses in rural clinics, what I deem to be “global health” is really just routine, run-of-the-mill “health.” Similarly, the journals that are produced nationally and regionally in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) usually do not define themselves as “global health journals” per se—they are just “journals.” What is the explanatory utility of “global health” if it means different things to different people?

My construction of a global health journal list also is complicated by the fact that global health has become its own academic discipline, yet it is also transdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary. Scholars in discrete, well-defined fields—say, nephrology or medical anthropology—have a handful of discipline-specific journals they need to read to stay informed. A similar paradigm does not apply in global health, and the scholarly landscape is complex. It’s worth it though. Uniting the “resocializing” fields (e.g., anthropology, sociology, history, etc.) with applied science (e.g., molecular biology, immunology, parasitology, etc.) and fields of practice (e.g., epidemiology, clinical medicine, nursing, etc.) gives global health a wonderful hybrid vigor.

One final caveat: There are many forms of knowledge generation and dissemination that occur outside of the academic press. I do not wish to be elitist. In addition to the Global Health Hub, some of my personal favorites include Healthcare Information for All (HIFA), Global Health Now, Humanosphere, Gates Notes, and Somatosphere. I don’t use Twitter, but it seems to be a great place for global health discourse. And of course, the most relevant discussions often occur in local conferences, newspapers, Facebook groups, and online forums.

Tomlinson, M. (2016). Taking stories to the mountains. Global Health Action, 9. Licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Global health journals: A framework

Global health as a whole is “coming of age,” “big business,” and a “growing industry,” and this has also been true of the rapidly proliferating academic global health publishing industry. New journals are released each year with a global health focus. It is difficult to keep up.

Thus, I don’t intend to offer an exhaustive list of all journals publishing global health research—or even all journals that are specifically dedicated to the field. Rather, I’ll present my own framework, bring up items of personal interest, and offer some heuristics for evaluating journals. My approach will differ from others who have reviewed global health journals like Karen Grepin and Andrew Harmer in that I will attempt to editorialize a bit more.

Let me be honest with my biases:

  • Open access. I have been greatly moved and persuaded by the arguments put forth in the HIFA discussion thread and in the work of Leslie Chan with regards to open access. I believe that research performed on and for the ostensible benefit of marginalized people should not be placed behind a paywall. The group with which I am affiliated has made open access publishing a fundamental ethical pillar of our research program.
  • Free or reduced author fees for researchers from LMICs. This is an important corollary to making open access journals relevant in global health.
  • Cross-cutting, multi-disciplinary focus. I tend to prefer general journals whose studies utilize methodologies from a wide range of disciplines. I also like journals that are willing to publish critical essays or perspectives that may not have a classic IMRAD research format.
  • Non-communicable diseases: A massively important piece of global health relates to infectious diseases, especially HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB. I am less knowledgeable on infectious diseases and tropical medicine, and I tend to be more interested in global non-communicable diseases and child health.
  • Relative indifference to impact factor. Impact factor (IF) is a measurement relating to how often a journal’s articles are cited. Journals with a higher IF tend to be more prestigious, but this metric is also subject to criticism. The relevance of IF in global health journals is still a bit unclear to me given that much scholarship is intended to be locally or regionally relevant. Nevertheless, IF is still a widely used in matters related to career promotion, grants, and job opportunities, so we ignore it at our own peril. Below, I include IF from Thompson Reuters Journal Citation Reports 2015.
  • North American, white male perspective. I primarily engage with English language journals, and my discussion below mostly excludes academic outlets in the Global South. My perspective is privileged and subject to real criticism.

Before I go further, let me make a two quick plugs. First, I rely heavily on alerts in human-curated article databases like PubMed and the Web of Science. I think it’s especially important in global health to use such alerts since scholarship that matters to a given reader may be published in diverse array of journal venues. I use both of the above databases, and I finely curate and iterate my search terms to try to get only the articles that are most relevant to me (i.e., limiting false positives) without missing articles that I need to see (i.e., limiting false negatives). It’s a bit of a sensitivity/specificity issue.

Second, accessing articles can be challenging for people who do not have institutional accounts. Researchers and global health practitioners in many countries are eligible for free journals through HINARI, a program set up by WHO and major publishers. Sci-Hub, an online pirated article repository, is another very popular source worldwide, but I wish to be clear that its use is illegal.

On to some journals!

Loh, A. (2016). Parading towards healthier lives, the Mangyan of Mindoro. Global Health Action, 9. Licensed under CC BY 4.0.

The Big Dogs

These journals need little introduction. Each publishes a limited number of very high-impact articles relevant to global health audiences each year. With the exception of Health Affairs, all are medical journals. They are among the highest cited journals in the world, regardless of discipline.

  • The Lancet (IF: 44.0) is a general medical journal that doubles as the premiere global health organ. In addition to its prioritization of global health research and commentary under editor Richard Horton, The Lancet also publishes series or seminar articles (“green section”) that generally become the definitive reference for topics ranging from early childhood development to global mental health to indigenous health to global non-communicable diseases. In my opinion, the journal has managed to have its cake and eat it too: It has a soaring impact factor, yet maintains a laudable moral stance by championing global health issues.
  • New England Journal of Medicine (IF: 59.6) is the most highly cited journal in the world. When NEJM puts out global health research, we should pay attention as it tends to be practice-changing or to re-orient entire ways of thinking about a given problem. Of note, as of the drafting of this post, research financed by the Gates Foundation cannot be published in NEJM as the journal does not comply with the foundation’s open access policy.
  • JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association (IF: 37.7) tends to be oriented to U.S. health, but JAMA also publishes some impactful global health research. The journal is published by the American Medical Association, which has taken controversial positions against U.S. health equity since the 1930s up to the present day.
  • Health Affairs (IF: 4.9) is the foremost journal worldwide for health policy. Their coverage of issues in LMICs is modest in quantity but high in quality.
  • The BMJ, formerly British Medical Journal (IF: 19.7), has been on the cutting edge of medical publishing for years. It now has a full open access policy for research articles.
  • Pediatrics (IF: 5.2) is the flagship journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics and probably the most prestigious general pediatrics journal. I am a pediatrician-in-training, so Pediatrics has a soft spot in my heart. Given the disproportionate burden of child illness in LMICs compared to the U.S., however, I wish Pediatrics published more articles on topics of global health interest.

“Must-read” global health journals 

These journals are all high impact, open access, and explicitly oriented to global health. I consider them to be “must-reads” and subscribe to each of their issue alerts.

  • The Lancet Global Health (IF: 14.7) was spun off from its parent in 2013 and has become the most highly cited of the dedicated global health journals. In addition to its emphasis on big data, meta-analyses, and quantitative research, The Lancet Global Health also has excellent perspective pieces in the journal and on its blog. I appreciate the diversity of topics covered, which reflect the editors’ inclusive view of global health relevance. I think its fair to say that The Lancet and The Lancet Global Health are at the vanguard of evidence-based global public health, which is an immensely important though increasingly scrutinized scientific movement. Of note, my anecdotal observation is that The Lancet has put out fewer global health articles in its “red section” (research section) over the last few years; perhaps many research manuscripts that would previously have been published in the mothership now end up in The Lancet Global Health.
  • Global Health: Science & Practice (IF: N/A) launched in 2013 with the support of USAID. The journal has a unique and much-needed focus on the practical elements of global health delivery, implementation, and programming. It is free for readers, does not charge article-processing fees to authors, and, according to my colleagues, has excellent copyediting and editorial services. Despite its initial pledge to cover a wide range of global health topics, thus far GHSP has primarily published articles reflecting USAID priorities like maternal and child health, infectious diseases, and reproductive health (especially an oversaturation of articles relating to long-acting reversible contraceptives). GHSP has tremendous potential, and I hope its editorial decisions evolve to reflect a more expansive view of global health. For instance, I would enjoy seeing it tackle issues such as global mental health, palliative care, surgery, early child development, and non-communicable diseases.
  • Bulletin of the World Health Organization (IF 5.3), first published in 1948, is WHO’s flagship journal. The quality is high, and there are no author-publication fees. I enjoy their robust non-research sections, especially “Lessons from the Field.”

Other general global health journals

I think of the next section as a tier below the “must-reads,” yet these journals are still relevant and valuable. Many are very new.

  • Global Health Action (IF: 1.7), managed by editors at Umea University in Sweden, publishes a diverse mix of articles and has a nice pragmatic bent. I subscribe to their alerts.
  • Global Public Health (IF: 2.0), hosted out of Columbia University, publishes some very good critical global health commentary, and I appreciate their qualitative articles. I think this journal is a gem. I subscribe to their alerts as well.
  • The Regional WHO journals, like PAHO’s Pan American Journal of Public Health (IF: 0.7), are great. In addition to the Bulletin, WHO publishes several other region-specific journals. I follow the PAHO journal as it is frequently relevant to my own clinical practice and research in Guatemala.
  • Annals of Global Health (IF: 1.4), formerly The Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, this journal was rebranded in 2014 with a global health focus.
  • BMJ Global Health (IF: N/A) is an open-access journal with backing from the BMJ publishing group that was launched in 2016. I expect it will take off in the coming years.
  • International Health (IF: 1.6) is the official journal of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
  • Journal of Global Health (IF: 3.6), not to be confused with the undergraduate-operated Journal of Global Health from Columbia University, is published by the Edinburgh University Global Health Society.
  • American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (IF: 2.5) is released monthly by the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
  • Global Health Governance (IF: N/A) is hosted at Seton Hall University and explores the relationship between global health, security, and governance.
  • Health and Human Rights (IF: 1.0) is supported by the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center at Harvard and Harvard University Press, and publishes at the intersection of human rights and health. The journal is open access, imposes no article processing charges, and has an illustrious history under founder Jonathan Mann and current editor Paul Farmer.
  • Health Policy and Planning (IF: 2.5) is sponsored by the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
  • International Journal of Public Health (2.8) publishes a diverse array of research under the supervision of multiple schools of public health in Switzerland.

Open access favorites

The most well-known open access (OA) publishers also tend to put out a wide variety of global health research. I described my own pro-OA bias above.

An additional consideration: In my experiences in the U.S., I’ve observed that well-known open access platforms carry a bit of stigma, or at least lower prestige, due to the fact that payment is required for publication, that editorial decisions are generally not made on the basis of impact, that the absolute volume of papers in OA “mega-journals” is enormous, and that article acceptance rates can be high.

These open access publishers all have policies waiving or reducing article-processing fees, especially for authors from low- or middle-income countries, though the specifics (and thus the generosity) of fee waivers varies. Article processing fees in SciELO depend on the journal.

Bambrick, H., & Moncada, S. (2016). Collecting water: Shashemene, Ethiopia, November 2015. Global Health Action, 9. Licensed under CC BY 4.0.

A special place in my heart

This last section includes a potpourri of journals I keep an eye on for their global health content. They come from a diverse array of disciplines.

First, I find anthropologists to be the most incisive critics and observers in global health. Medical Anthropology (IF: 1.3) and Medical Anthropology Quarterly (IF: 1.1) are the top journals in medical anthropology, and Medicine Anthropology Theory (IF: N/A) is a new open-access venue that I’m pretty excited about. Human Organization (IF 0.8) is the leading applied anthropology journal. Much of the penetrating global health analyses in Critical Public Health (IF: 2.5) comes from anthropologists. Finally, let me digress from journals and encourage you to visit the extraordinary collection of medical anthropology books in the Critical Global Health series at Duke University Press.

Other journals I wish to note:

Summary

This list is my own attempt to sort out the landscape of global health journals. It is not intended to be comprehensive, and it is colored by my own perspective and biases. Nevertheless, I hope it may prove useful to readers who wish to deepen their engagement with the academic global health literature.

I am interested in hearing about other journals I may have overlooked, as well as learning about alternative journal taxonomies or hearing criticisms of my discussion. Please consider sharing your thoughts in the comments below.

March 11, 2017 note: Based on a reader’s suggestion, this post was updated to include Bioline International.

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