FEATURE

From animals to earthquakes: communicating South Asia's research

INASP's Sian Harris shares stories of some of the research going on in South Asia and the communication challenges facing researchers in the region

In April Nepal experienced a huge earthquake. Aside from the terrible humanitarian implications of the earthquake and its aftershocks, there was a side story to tell: the value of local research.

The Nepal Journals Online (NepJOL) platform, established by INASP in 2006 and in the process of being handed over to local management by Tribhuvan University Central Library, provides a platform for Nepalese journals, and the research they contain, to reach a worldwide audience. Journals hosted on the platform have published papers on many aspects of earthquake risk.

For example, a 2012 paper by Harihar Paudyal warned that the region was ‘highly compressed’, with dire potential consequences for future seismic activity. And a decade before the most recent earthquakes, Bijaya K. Shrestha warned how poor urban planning has exacerbated Kathmandu’s vulnerability to tremors, with ‘haphazard urban (re)development in the historic core area’.

Nearby Bangladesh also suffers from earthquakes as well as flooding. Articles in journals hosted on the BanglaJOL platform, which is being handed over to management by Bangladesh Academy of Sciences, reveal how disaster mitigation strategies work best when developed collaboratively with communities, with awareness of local topology and architecture.

The Journals Online platforms, of which there are four in Asia within INASP’s stable and another two already in the hands of local managers, provide a great insight into research going on in the region and the priorities of local researchers.

Language issues

Not surprisingly for such a large and diverse region, there are many challenges.

At a recent workshop for editors of Mongolian journals on or considering the Mongolia Journals Online platform, for example, a key concern was language for peer review. The journals on the platform – and the platform itself – are in Mongolian but this language and its dialects are only spoken by 5.7 million people around the world. As a consequence, the pool of potential reviewers is small.

Khoa Mai Anh, a researcher in animal nutrition and feeding at Thai Nguyen University, Vietnam, also highlights language challenges for researchers in his country. He was a co-facilitator in a recent workshop training trainers to conduct AuthorAID research writing courses in the country.

‘The main challenges faced by researchers in my country and so in the region are the lack of access to the sources such as the availability of good articles for references, funding, the appropriate journals which most likely accept their manuscripts. And I think the limiting factor that contributes to these problems is the English language skill, which means that good ideas are not impressed upon funders or publishers because of poor expression,’ he explains.

The recent workshop that he helped to facilitate aimed to help address such challenges. ‘The highlights of the recent training of the trainers workshop were the opportunities for those who are experienced in research communications to improve their skills in disseminating knowledge in a very constructive way,’ he notes. ‘Activities like this workshop would definitely play an important role in helping Vietnamese scientists to embed their skills in research communication; this would help to orient Vietnam research to catch up with the world research trends, so we are not isolated to the world scientific societies. This activity provides Vietnamese researchers with more possible resources, for example funding, to explore.’

Communication is at the heart of Khoa Mai Anh’s research goals: ‘I hope my research results will be accessed by other scientists of my field.

They can be used at university training activities and also be applied in practice by both industry and small farm holders.’

South Asia is a diverse region with many languages, cultures and particular challenges. It is a privilege for INASP to be able to play a role in so many research stories. 

Siân Harris is communications coordinator at INASP. INASP supports research and research systems in South Asia through access negotiations, grants for evidence-informed policy making work, AuthorAID (www.authoraid.info) training and mentoring, and Journals Online platforms in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Mongolia. For more information, see www.inasp.info.

From mentee to mentor: the story of one medical researcher in Pakistan

Farooq Rathore is an assistant professor and consultant at the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, CMH Lahore Medical College and Institute of dentistry in Lahore, Pakistan. He describes himself, ‘like many other doctors working in the developing regions of the world,’ as ‘enthusiastic, eager to learn and keen to share knowledge.’ What he needed, he realised was support and guidance to start his journey in the right direction.

Finding such support was important for Rathore as ‘a young resident in rehabilitation medicine trying to make sense of the huge amount of data which we gathered in the aftermath of the deadly 2005 Pakistan earthquake.’

He learnt about INASP’s AuthorAID project, which provides online and face-to-face training in research writing and publication for researchers; a mentoring scheme to match early-career researchers with those who are more experienced in their research; grants to help researchers attend conferences; and a wide range of resources on the website.

‘I registered on the website and started connecting with like-minded researchers from developing countries and experienced mentors. I started sending out invites to my colleagues, many of whom registered on AuthorAID and still continue to benefit from its resources. I signed up for the weekly emails which helped me keep updated about the activities going on at AuthorAID. In addition I started browsing the resource library regularly. This not only helped me in getting answers to many questions I had, but also helped me polish my medical writing and scientific communications skills.’

This support – and an AuthorAID travel grant in 2011 to a global military medicine forum in the US – helped Rathore establish his research career and begin to support others on a similar journey. ‘By 2013 I had published more than 50 manuscripts and had delivered more than 15 platform presentations in national and international conferences. I was mentoring many medical students, residents in different specialties, peers and even seniors in medical research and writing.’

Rathore now runs AuthorAID-supported medical writing workshops in Pakistan through which he has passed on the skills he has gained to hundreds more students, trainees and faculty members and was awarded the AuthorAID mentor of the year 2014 award.

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