Tackling Neglected Tropical Diseases

March 2014
Peter J. Hotez and Serap Aksoy on PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases
Pere P. Simarro, World Health Organization

In a recent analysis of data from Thomson Reuters Web of Science, the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases was identified as a Rising Star in the field of Immunology, based on an increase in citations tracked during successive bimonthly periods in the InCites/Essential Science Indicators database, a subset of the Web of Science. The journal’s current record in this field as recorded in Essential Science Indicators includes 2,142 papers cited a total of 17,785 times between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2013.

PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases is an Open Access journal published by PLOS in San Francisco, California. Its current Editors-in-Chief are Peter J. Hotez, Founding Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, and Serap Aksoy, Professor of Epidemiology (Microbial Diseases) at the Yale School of Public Health, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.

Below, Drs. Hotez and Aksoy share a few observations on PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases and its increasing citation profile.

SW: Did you expect PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases to become highly cited, or is this surprising to you?

Yes, of course we expected it to be highly cited! PLOS NTDs filled a much-needed role and we are confident that the work published in the journal will continue to be of the highest importance to our community of researchers and policy makers. 

SW How would you account for the journal’s growing citation rate?

There are many factors for our growing citation rate, including expanded resources for NTD research worldwide. We believe that the largest factor is our focus on increasing access, opportunity, and scientific capacity for researchers in endemic countries. We strive for increasing numbers of submissions and increasing representation on our Editorial Board from researchers who work in endemic regions. It’s also vitally important that we are completely Open Access, and that PLOS provides additional support for researchers in low- and middle-income countries through its Global Participation Initiative.

SW: Would you give us a brief history of the journal?

PLOS NTDs grew out of a movement on these diseases that began in the years following the launch of the Millennium Development Goals.  The concept of the NTDs as a group of chronic and debilitating parasitic and related infections (which in some cases could be simultaneously targeted with a package of medicines) emerged in 2004-05, culminating in two back-to-back policy papers that were published in PLOS Medicine, then a new journal. It was recognized that an Open Access format was especially suited to communication between scientists working in developing countries, and so PLOS NTDs was spun out of PLOS Medicine in 2007. The journal began with initial seed funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but it has now been self-sustaining for many years. 

SW: What historical factors have contributed to the journal’s success?

Among the unique features that formed an important part of the journal from its inception, PLOS NTDs was established to have a high representation on its editorial board from disease-endemic countries, with a high representation from women scientists and public-health experts. The journal had a commitment to both biomedical science and social science of these diseases, as well as science and global health policy. The policy component reflected new interest from the US and UK governments in NTDs as well as from emerging economies and the disease-endemic countries’ ministries of health. The journal also sought to explore unique links between NTDs and poverty and other social forces, in part by fostering a large magazine section containing editorials, reviews, viewpoints and other forms of expert commentary.  

SW: Have there been specific developments in the fields served by the journal that may have contributed?

Absolutely. Awareness of NTDs has been growing and with that we’ve experienced an increased number of NGOs tackling NTDs, expanded research funds from partners like Gates and Wellcome Trust, more resources for genomic/genetic investigations of NTD organisms, and enhanced opportunities for public/private partnerships. And of course one of the most important trends we’ve seen is the involvement of researchers from disease-endemic countries who value the ability to access and publish Open Access content.

SW: What, in your view, is this journal’s main significance or contribution in Immunology and beyond?

PLOS NTDs provides a platform for the integration of scientific research with science policy and science diplomacy for this unique group of diseases linked to poverty. Because of this we’ve helped develop a dispersed collection of researchers and policy makers into a community and become the major forum for communicating NTD control and elimination activities.

SW: How do you see this area evolving in the next few years?

Dedicated NTDs research and policy has only come into focus recently, and gaps in our knowledge and understanding of these diseases of poverty are large. Some key areas we think will become central to the field in the coming years are:

  • NTDs as problems disproportionately affecting girls and women and having a huge impact on global health
  • The expanded role of Product Development Partnerships linked to developing country manufacturers
  • Recognition that NTDs represent neglected causes of what were previously believed to be non-communicable diseases (NCDs), i.e., cancer, heart disease, liver disease, genitourinary tract diseases
  • New vaccine and drug candidates identified by the genomics revolution
  • Creating and understanding links between NTD control & elimination efforts with those of HIV/AIDS and malaria control programs
  • Excitement about targets set for elimination programs
  • “Blue marble health”: High rates of NTDs among the poor living in wealthy countries, including the US, Middle East, and Europe
  • New Global Burden of Disease studies highlighting the importance of not only the major helminth infections, but also vector-borne diseases including leishmaniasis in the setting of conflict and an emerging dengue pandemic

SW: What role do you see for your journal?

PLOS NTDs provides a hub of engagement, a forum, and a voice for the NTD community, and in turn we have the opportunity to help shape and define the meaning of the NTDs and assist in increasing the global scientific capacity for research and public policy.

Peter J. Hotez
Baylor College of Medicine
Houston, TX

Serap Aksoy
Yale School of Public Health
Yale University
New Haven, CT

Note: see also the Global Research Report on NTDs

The data and citation records included in this report are from Thomson Reuters Web of ScienceTM. Web of ScienceTM is a registered trademark of Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.