Lancet Global Health: A francophone call for more inclusive global health research

16 April, 2019

Congratulations to HIFA Multilingualism project members Anne Roca, Yap Boum and Isabelle Wachsmuth for this new Comment in The Lancet Global Health. The original is published in French 'Plaidoyer contre l'exclusion des francophones dans la recherche en santé mondiale' and is available here: (For the English version, see Supplementary Material)

Extracts and five proposed 'steps for more more linguistic inclusion' below:


During the Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC) in Kigali, Rwanda, in early March 2019, we organised a workshop to gather thoughts and experiences from francophone delegates on the hegemony of English and potential solutions to mitigate its negative impact on research and health communication... Four concepts emerged from this session.

First, the unanimous sentiment from attendees was that the linguistic isolation felt by many francophone Africans is a real and constant struggle... A participant from Benin summarised it most clearly: in international forums, “if you don’t speak English, you stay quiet”...

Second... when [frncophone researchers] do publish in [their own] language, their work only touches a minority of people in their immediate environment, because policymakers, practitioners, and the general public don’t necessarily have a sufficient mastery of English to read it, but also because many publications are behind a paywall.

Third, the disadvantage is compounded by the polarisation of health information around anglophone sources...

Finally... Francophone journals are difficult to index and suffer from low impact factors for lack of citations, largely because many databases do not allow searches in French....


1. Promote translations of scientific documents. Learning English is a must, but to truly reduce inequalities, more documents must be available in other languages. These efforts must strive to provide the same level of information, not just summaries. In the case of the French language, the International Organisation of la Francophonie has a role to play in facilitating translation efforts, both pre-and post-publication.

2. Encourage publication of articles in languages other than English. More support should be given to journals in French and other languages, which suffer from a deficit of submissions from researchers yet represent an accessible space when the language barrier is too great. It is only by supporting them that their impact will be reinforced.

3. Harness the dynamism of African researchers through the elevation of African champions and role models from different linguistic backgrounds who can show the way to more recognition and visibility. Creating and promoting networks where researchers could exchange ideas, support each other, and excel in their own language, is also key.

4. Organise more francophone conferences in Africa and sessions in French at international conferences, with simultaneous translations for non-French speakers.

5. Address the chronic lack of funding for research in francophone Africa by advocating for more multilingualism among funders and donors, to remove language as a potential barrier.


Language barriers are a critically important but neglected issue in global health and I invite everyone on HIFA to discuss and debate the four concepts and five steps described above. Please email your comments to: We shall debate this also on HIFA-French, HIFA-Portuguese and HIFA-Spanish.

Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA Project on Multilingualism

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: