Medical journal Lancet turns 200

Lancet embarked on its journey 200 ago with a strong conviction and is one of the most respected journals in the world now

Bangladesh in the cover of a special Lancet issue.

Lancet, in the preface of its first ever issue, had stated that the journal won’t be limited to publishing just intellectual columns on medicine. It would try relentlessly to present itself as a comprehensive source of the chronological records of current affairs. That conviction remains unscathed even after 200 years.

Lancet now is one of the top health and medical journals in the world. It holds a solid ground on the international level along with a strong influence in the policy making circles. Scientists and researchers consider themselves fortunate to have an article published in the Lancet.

Lancet publishes research articles on health issues that are global or from of a certain region, country or community, throughout the year.

Scientific articles about medical advancement, trials of a new vaccine or drug as well as any new discoveries are published there regularly.

Lancet forms commissions with acclaimed research institutions, scientists and researchers from universities, doing in-depth research on global issues. Just as these commissions provide valuable data, recommendations made by the commissions also provide new directions to the world.

Thomas Wakley published first ever issue of this independent journal from London on 5 October 1823. Thomas Wakley was a surgeon. Lancet is the name of a light-weight small knife or scalpel, used in surgeries.

Stepping into 200 years, Lancet editor-in-chief Richard Horton says that Lancet has been founded to facilitate medical advancement. It works toward changing the society and is a political tool.  

The journal played even more of a significant role during the Covid-19 pandemic. In December 2019, many started contracting the unknown virus in China’s Wuhan.

By February 2019, Lancet had already brought several scientific articles on this subject before scientists of the world. Scientists discovering Covid vaccine were competing to get their vaccine test results published in Lancet before others.

Innumerous articles of scientists and researchers from around the world on multifarious topics like the origin of Covid, how Covid spreads, what happens when infected with Covid, the use of masks, health protocol, socio-economic impact of Covid, long-term damages of Covid, impact of the lockdown, mental health during the Covid period, role of oxygen or ventilators, genome sequence, etc. have been published and are still being published in the Lancet. Lancet created an online ‘Covid-19 Resource Centre’ too.

Not only scientists, researchers and physicians but also journalists globally used information from Lancet. Prothom Alo has published many articles based on Lancet’s resource centre information for its readers.

Lancet authority says they have been doing four tasks with commitment for the last 200 years. The tasks are: bringing vital health issues of the society to the forefront, highlighting newer debates or creating a space for debate, presenting science in a relevant way and having an influence on global policy makers’ decision.

They have a lot of achievements in these sectors. Lancet has begun celebrating its bicentennial, keeping alive its traditions and achievements.

Lancet and more...

The journal was named The Lancet from the outset and still runs under this same name.  Annually, it publishes 51 issues in its print edition. It has an online edition as well. Apart from that, it has 23 more journals on separate subjects.

The list of journals includes The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, The Lancet Digital Health, The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology, The Lancet Global Health, The Lancet Hematology, The Lancet Healthy Longevity, The Lancet HIV, The Lancet Infectious Diseases, The Lancet Microbes, The Lancet Neurology, The Lancet Oncology, The Lancet Planetary Health, The Lancet Physiatry, The Lancet Public Health, The Lancet Respiratory Medicine and The Lancet Rheumatology.

Apart from this, there are separate journals focusing on different regions of the world, such as The Lancet Regional Health-Americas, The Lancet Regional Health-Europe, The Lancet Regional Health-Southeast Asia and The Lancet Regional Health-Western Pacific.

There is a different editor-in-chief for each of these journals. There are more than 170 professionals working in the editorial department including editor-in-chief, editors and subject-based experts.

The Lancet headquarters are in London. Besides, there are full-fledged offices in Beijing, New York and Munich.

Lancet also has special staff in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Madrid, Philadelphia, Oxford, Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, Sydney and Chennai.

Lancet says they have 3.5 million subscribers worldwide. is visited by 42.5 million (4.25 crore) people a year. Meanwhile, 268.7 million (26.87 crore) research or scientific articles are downloaded annually.

Some articles can be downloaded for free, while others cost between USD 10 and 35. Each article is published after being reviewed by experts or scientists in the respective field.

Lancet is a reliable source of information for journalists working in health, medical and science sectors. Lancet authorities estimate that on an average 363,000 news reports per year uses their data. Associated Press (AP), BBC, CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post regularly use Lancet as a source of information.

Bangladesh in context

The issue of diarrhoea and cholera runs deep in the history of this region. Lancet published an article in 1953 on the use of liquid diet to address cholera patients' dehydration. Hemendra Nath Chattopadhyay, a physician at Chittaranjan Hospital in Kolkata had written it.

However it was the scientists of International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) who had published the first scientific article on the effectiveness of oral saline in the Lancet. The institute was named the Cholera Research Laboratory (CRL) back then.

That article published in 1968 was authored by David Nalin, Richard Cash, Rafiqul Islam and Abdul Majid Mollah. Then an editorial column that appeared on 5 August 1978 dubbed oral saline or ORS as century's greatest discovery.

Since then many more scientific articles on saline have been published in the Lancet. It has published other articles from scientists and researchers of the country on different other subjects as well. Many however consider them to be inadequate in number.

In more recent times, Lancet had published a special issue on Bangladesh's health sector in November 2013. Six research articles were published in the issue titled 'Bangladesh: Innovation for Universal Health Coverage'. In fact, there was an event organised in Dhaka on the occasion of the issue being published.

Lancet editor-in-chief Richard Horton in his column had remarked that Bangladesh's progress in health was one of the greatest paradoxes in the sector.

Economist Amartya Sen had written in his op-ed column that the key to Bangladesh’s laudable success has been the avoidance of the twin dangers of inertia and smugness.

Alongside other public health experts, scientists and researchers, Ahmad Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury, a professor of public health at Columbia University in the US and convener of Bangladesh Health Watch, contributed crucially in publishing that special Lancet issue.

He told Prothom Alo that Bangladesh's progress in the health sector gained extraordinary global recognition after that special issue of Lancet was published. Researchers around the world have cited and still cite that special issue.

Notably in 2014, when the country was going through political unrest, several Bangladeshi nationals including Ahmad Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury had travelled to different countries for positive campaigning.

They used to present Lancet data at the meetings held in several European cities including New York, Washington, Delhi and Islamabad. They would say, Bangladesh has transformed and Lancet is the proof.

Lancet has published profiles or brief biographies of three Bangladeshis so far. They are Bangladesh Diabetic Association president AK Azad Khan, reseaarcher Ahmad Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury and Child Health Research Foundation director Senjuti Saha.

Bangla in Lancet

Lancet is published in English only. Some articles have been published in French and Chinese also. But, those articles have English versions too. One initiative about Bangla articles being used in Lancet has been heard of.

Microbiologist and Child Health Research Foundation director Senjuti Saha has been trying to publish scientific articles in Lancet that are written in Bangla. She told Prothom Alo that a survey showed as much as 50 per cent of their staff don’t read scientific articles as those are written in English.

In September 2019, Sejuti Saha wrote to The Lancet Global Health about publishing scientific articles in Bangla. And, there was a positive response from Lancet. Later, Lancet published a one-page Bangla summary of the article on typhoid, written by Senjuti Saha and others in June 2022.

New commitment

It's 200-year history says that the journal has been a harbour for innumerous scientific discoveries and events that have created new avenues of treatment.

Now the Lancet Group has launched a campaign saying they will be focusing on five topics in the year of the journal turning 200. This list includes child and adolescent health, health and climate change, mental health, health research and universal health coverage.

Lancet has published many research articles on these topics in the past. All five of the topics are of global significance, and are being considered neglected worldwide. It is assumed that Lancet will bring greater number of research articles on these topics before the world in near future.

How significant or important a health and medical journal is can be realised from its impact factor (how many people are reading a journal at a certain time, how many are citing it). Among all the medical journals, Lancet tops in impact factor.

Senior scientist at icddr,b, Firdaousi Qadri, has had 15 of her scientific articles published in Lancet so far. This scientist told Prothom Alo, “Lancet is one of the most influential and extensively read journals in the world. Scientists and researchers dream of having their articles published in Lancet. It’s matter of great honour and recognition to have an article published in Lancet.”

“It takes a lot of preparation and sincere work to get an article published in Lancet. I hope more articles from promising young researchers of the country get published in journals like the Lancet, and that they prepare accordingly,” she added.