Increasing the value of health research in the WHO African Region beyond 2015—reflecting on the past, celebrating the present and building the future: a bibliometric analysis

Olalekan A Uthman1,2Charles Shey Wiysonge1,3Martin O Ota4,Mark Nicol5Gregory D Hussey5Peter M Ndumbe4Bongani M Mayosi6

This very important article just appeared in the British Medical journal on research productivity in Africa. The article indicated that the number of publications rose in Africa from 3623 in 2000 to 12709 in 2014.  The percent of world publications was .7% in 2000 and 1.3% in 2014. Clearly the rise is impressive, but still Africa contributes only 1.3% of the publications, despite 16% of the world living in Africa.  The article correlated various factors to the publication rates, and only one was significant, that of GDP.  Interestingly the amount spent on research and development was not significant.  It is rather difficult,  to raise the GDP in a country, however.

We have suggested two additional factors which can rapidly raise research productivity.  The first is of course building capacity in research methods with the Research Methods Library of Alexandria as most  countries are statistically malnourished, with few skills in research methods

“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I am doing”  (von Braun)

The second one is the concept of Publish or Perish/ University meritocracies.   When we  examined publication rates by countries, there are several  countries that demonstrated rapid spiking of research productivity.  In Iran over a 3 year period of time there was a tripling in the number of scientific publications, in Serbia, well after the war, public health publications jumped from 3 in a year to 183. Similar results have been seen in Universities in Kazakhstan and elsewhere. We asked scientist in  these countries as to why this occurred. Typically they responded that recently  degrees, grants, hiring, promotion and raises were tied to productivity, .e.g. publication. In many universities across the world Ph.D. degrees are now dependent upon publication. Obviously the ossified full professor will not like to be told to publish more. However it is a simple incentive, and appears to be very effective way to increase scientific productivity. Tying publication with promotion and raises is a very strong motivator! 

Partnering improved research methods training with a scientific motivators can produce a major increase in productivity.

“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” (Einstein)

There is the concern that countries cannot compete because of lack of money. Clearly this is true for “Expensive” science”. However there are many areas of science that are frugal (Epidemiology, geology, linguistics, archeology).   For example it was not expensive to find the enormous historically important Geoglyphics in Kazakhstan last year, finding the  next Lucy in Africa will not be expensive. Also, my field of epidemiology is also frugal and important as most of the most significant finds have come from counting sick people or dead bodies. Now also with the Internet, there is the death of distance, we can communicate and collaborate with almost any scientist in the world, and access to research knowledge is much better.

For these reasons,  we think the Library of Alexandria Africa, can triple the 1.3% articles from Africa in 5 years.

Best Regards, Ron, Ismail, Musa, Eugene, Faina, Francois, Nicholas,  Youssef, Kamal, Eman, Shalkar, Eric, Alsi, Ghassan, Francis,