Editorial for the maiden edition of the JOURNAL OF THE WEST AFRICAN COLLEGE OF SURGEONS

It is an honour and a great privilege to be invited to write the editorial for the maiden edition of the Journal of The West African College of Surgeons under the sole proprietorship of the West African College of Surgeons. The development marks another milestone in the history of a college which at its inception, as Association of Surgeons of West Africa, put academic publishing as one of its many fundamental objectives. It had tried to adopt other journals as official organs of its activities in surgical education, research and training with varying degrees of difficulties notwithstanding a strong determination to seek accommodation with other organizations with apparently co-terminus interests.

Causes of dissatisfaction had included the lack of focus in the mass communication of scientific material fundamental to the science and practice of surgery and the ‘crowding out’ of current topics of surgical interest in the quest by the Editor-in-Chief to be even-handed in the choice of manuscripts for publishing given the limited space in a journal that can only carry a number of articles within the costs its management can afford. The impact of information technology on medical publishing had put greater strain on journal production in terms of cost, speed of information dissemination and the patronage available from healthcare product merchants and procurers. While the internet has transformed the dissemination of new knowledge to the consuming world population, the journals remain the main arena of the development of new ideas and the testing of their validity through proven scientific standards, evaluation and verification by other scientists working on similar subjects using diverse methodologies. Just as it is counter-productive to restrict research findings to the special enclaves of journals, it is also significantly damaging to the image of research if untested and unverified information is prematurely disseminated to a public that soon loses confidence through false claims or victims of physical damage in search for remedies produced at standards below acceptable levels of scientific enquiry and bioethics.

Yet, the West African experience in over eight decades of medical journalism is replete with the same challenges and inappropriate or ineffective responses. With the advent of the first ever medical research team in West Africa, based in Lagos and named ‘The Rockefeller Foundation Yellow Fever Commission to the West Coast of Africa’ in 1920 and the establishment of a Research Laboratory in Yaba in 1925 at the time of the bubonic plague in Lagos in the same year, the establishment of the West African Journal of Medicine in 1927 could not have come as a surprise. The solid base at the inception of the journal and the generous support of the colonial governments and pharmaceutical and drug companies for three decades crumbled with the advent of political independence in the closing years of the 1950s. Conservative estimates put the number of successive medical journals in West Africa since then to almost 40 including efforts of medical student bodies, specialized health agencies like the journal of the Nigerian Association of Health Engineering and the journals of national medical and dental associations. The major causes of the premature eclipse of these publications were inadequate finances, poor distribution or marketing strategies, lack of institutional structures that did not recognize journal production as science and business enterprises, irreconcilable policy differences between professional groups, intrusion of governmental agencies through fiscal baits and outright management failures.

The presumption in the founding of a new journal at this time must be that some answers have been found for most of the identified problems of the past. The solutions must not be in the imagination of a few but as evaluable documentations subject the tests of new commercial projects. The intellectual component has not been the problems of the past and will not be the threats of the future. Global economic changes and the rules of trade and advertisement have changed. Technology has made some of the practices of the past irrelevant. The quantum of capital required to float new enterprise and the competitive drive in the market-place are now played by new rules and different morality.

I congratulate the leadership of the West African College of Surgeons for taking a bold step in the provision of a journal that will be solely devoted to the art and science of surgery. It was the way the founding fathers of the college set the ball rolling when it looked difficult if not impossible. The spirit has endured. Let our expectations match our resolve to emulate the efforts of our heroes past.

Professor O. O. Ajayi FRCS; FWACS; FMCS; FICS;FACS; CON.
Past President, West African College of Surgeons.

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