1School of Public Health, Taipei Medical University, Taipei City, Taiwan
2Trend Research Centre, Asia University, Taichung, Taiwan
3Department of Public Health, China Medical University, Taichung, Taiwan
500 Lioufeng Road, Wufeng, Taichung County 41354, Taiwan
Received: 07 June 2010
Accepted: 10 Mar. 2011
Published: 05 May 2011
How to cite this article:
Chuang K-Y, Chuang Y-C, Ho M, Ho Y-S. Bibliometric analysis of public health research
in Africa: The overall trend and regional comparisons. S Afr J Sci. 2011;107(5/6), Art. #309, 6 pages.
© 2011. The Authors. Licensee: OpenJournals Publishing. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License.
ISSN: 0038-2353 (print)
ISSN: 1996-7489 (online)
Bibliometric analysis of public health research in Africa: The overall trend and regional comparisons
In This Research Article...
• Statistical analysis
• Journals, subject categories and author keywords
• Regional comparisons
Many diseases in Africa can be prevented with appropriate public health interventions.
This study aimed to assess the bibliometric characteristics of public health related
research articles published by researchers in African institutions from 1991 to 2005.
Data used in this study were obtained from the online version of the ISI Web of Science:
Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-Expanded). Articles published between 1991 and
2005 that had the phrase ‘public health’ in the title, author keywords or
abstract, and had at least one author whose contact address was in an African country,
were selected for analysis. The annual number of public health related articles
published by African researchers significantly increased from 28 articles in 1991 to
135 articles in 2005, a 382% increase. International collaboration also increased: from
45% of articles having international collaborators during 1991–1995, to 52%
during1996–2000, and to 67% during 2001–2005. Collaborations were mostly
with European and North American countries. Keywords, subject categories and collaboration
patterns of articles varied across regions, reflecting differences in needs and
collaboration networks. Public health related research output, as well as international
collaborations, have been increasing in Africa. Regional variation observed in this
study may assist policymakers to facilitate the advancement of public health research
in different regions of Africa, and could be useful for international organisations in
identifying needs and to allocate research funding. Future bibliometric analyses of
articles published by African researchers, can consider conducting regional comparisons
using standardised methods, as well as describing the overall patterns, in order to
provide a more comprehensive view of their bibliometric characteristics.
In 2005, Africa had about 12% of the world’s population with more than 840 million people.1
Africa also bears 24% of the disease burden but has only 3% of health workers and commands less than 1% of the
world’s health expenditures.2 In 2000, the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that the
six leading causes of death in Africa were HIV/AIDS, malaria, lower-respiratory infection, diarrheal diseases,
perinatal conditions and measles.3 Many of these deaths could be prevented by appropriate public
Despite the many pressing public health problems, no research has evaluated the bibliometric characteristics
of public health research in Africa. Bibliometrics is a type of research method that uses quantitative analysis
and statistics to describe patterns of publication within a given field or body of literature. For example,
researchers may use bibliometric methods of evaluation to determine the trend of publications or to identify
the focus of research. Whilst some researchers have conducted bibliometric analyses of scientific research in
Africa,4,5,6,7,8,9 or of a
specific topic or disease,10,11,12,13
none has looked at public health research as a whole in Africa.
The purpose of this research was to conduct a bibliometric analysis of public health research
in African institutions. A bibliometric analysis can provide information on the growth trend
and characteristics of research outputs. The examination of keywords and subject categories
can provide information on topics of interest amongst public health researchers in Africa. It
may also reflect funding priorities of local governments or international health agencies.
Examining the pattern of international collaboration may also reveal information on the
intensity and breadth of collaboration between researchers in African institutions and
researchers from other countries. Whilst some may argue, very effectively, that international
collaboration dominates local research in Africa and reduces capacity development, international
collaboration in health research can be a valuable mechanism for advancing knowledge, improving
research quality and enhancing capacity in developing countries, if conducted
properly.14,15 Furthermore, collaboration between developed and developing
countries may also better ensure that public health research and programmes are not
solely based on the interests of donor agencies but instead on local needs and
priorities.16 Comparisons of bibliometric characteristics between regions
can reveal differences in public health problems, research orientation and capacity,
and collaboration patterns.17 Findings from this research may be important
in assisting policymakers to facilitate or implement programmes that may improve public
health research in Africa. For international organisations, findings from this research
could also be useful in identifying African countries needing additional international
collaborations and research funding.
Data used in this research were obtained in 2006 from the online version of the ISI Web
of Science: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-Expanded). Thus, articles published between
1991 and 2005 that had the phrase ‘public health’ in the title, author keywords
or abstract, and had at least one author whose contact address was in an African country
were selected. Bibliometric characteristics of these articles were downloaded into spreadsheets.
Downloaded information included the names of authors, contact addresses, title of article,
year of publication, keywords, number of times cited, subject categories of the article, name
of journal in which the article was published and publisher information. After the data were
downloaded, additional measures were taken to exclude inappropriate data. Some countries not
in Africa, such as Papua New Guinea, were also included in the computerised search result
because the country name contains the name, Guinea, an African country. Such documents were
manually excluded. Furthermore, because some countries have changed their names during this
period, such as Zaire to Democratic Republic of the Congo, both names were included in the
search, and their data were combined together under the new name in the analysis.
In total, 1213 publications met the selection criteria. Amongst them, 1086 publications were
categorised as articles. The others were reviews (66), editorial materials (37), letters (15),
notes (5), reprints (2), meeting abstract (1) and news item (1). To compare characteristics
of articles published by researchers from different geographical regions in Africa, we
divided Africa into five regions: North, East, South, West, and Central regions. The
categorisation was based on documents published by the United Nations Statistics
Division.18 The North region included Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan
and Tunisia. The East region included Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya,
Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mayotte, Mozambique, Rwanda, the Seychelles, Somalia, Uganda,
Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The West region included Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde,
Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania,
Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone. The South region included Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia,
South Africa and Swaziland. The Central region included Angola, Cameroon, Central African
Republic, Chad, Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
Bibliometric characteristics are presented as numbers and percentages. Comparisons of
bibliometric characteristics, both categorical and interval variables, amongst the five
regions of Africa were performed using an analysis of variance (ANOVA). Statistical
calculations were done using SPSS 10.0 software.19 The level of
significance for all tests was p < 0.05.
In total, 1086 public health related articles were published by African researchers between 1991 and 2005.
Figure 1 shows an increase in the number of articles published each year, from 28 articles in 1991 to 135
articles in 2005 – a 382% increase. From 1991 to 1995, the number of articles published per year
remained steady and averaged fewer than 40 articles. Using 5-year intervals, the number of publications
in the three periods, 1991–1995, 1996–2000 and 2001–2005, were 181, 375 and 530, respectively.
FIGURE 1: The number of public health related articles published by African researchers between 1991 and 2005.
From 1991 to 2005, researchers from 13 countries (Table 1) published 81% of all articles. South Africa
topped the list with 222 articles, followed by Kenya (93), Egypt (82), Nigeria (82) and Tanzania (78).
Table 1 also shows the number and percentage of articles from a single country and those authored by
international collaborators. Of the 1086 articles, 628 articles (58%) were authored by international
collaborators. Excluding Nigeria (32%), South Africa (44%), Morocco (49%) and Ethiopia (49%), more
than half of the articles published in the other nine countries showed international collaboration.
The five countries that had the highest percentage of articles with international collaborators were
Kenya (78%), Tanzania (77%), Zimbabwe (77%), Burkina Faso (74%) and Uganda (74%).
TABLE 1: The number of public health related articles published by African researchers between 1991 and 2005 by country.†
Looking at the pattern of international collaboration longitudinally, in the three periods,
1991–1995, 1996–2000 and 2001–2005, the percentages of articles with international
collaboration were 45%, 52% and 67%, respectively. An ANOVA showed that the effect of period was
significant, (F(2,1083) = 18.436, p = 0.001). Post-hoc analyses indicated
that the extent of international collaboration was significantly higher in the 2001–
2005 period than in the two earlier periods.
The average number of country affiliations per article increased from 1.70 in 1991–
1995 to 1.81 in 1996–2000 and to 2.31 in 2001–2005.
African researchers collaborated most often with researchers from 11 non-African countries
(Table 2). The United States topped the list with collaboration on 20% of articles, followed
by the United Kingdom (14%), France (10%), Switzerland (8.3%), Belgium (4.2%) and Sweden (3.2%).
Of these 11 countries, 8 were European countries. The non-European countries were the United
States, Australia and Canada. There appeared to be little collaboration between African
researchers and researchers in Asian countries (5.1%) or other African countries (5.9%).
TABLE 2: Country affiliation of researchers with whom African researchers collaborated in publication of public health related articles.
Over time, the involvements of the top three collaborating countries (United States, United
Kingdom and France) in public health research in Africa showed somewhat different patterns.
In the three periods 1991–1995, 1996–2000 and
2001–2005, United States researchers collaborated in 17%, 19% and 23% of articles,
respectively. The percentage of articles with collaborators from the United Kingdom increased
from 9.9% to 13% and then up to 17% during the same time. Whereas the percentage of articles
with French collaborators dropped from 9.4% to 8.5%, but then increased to 12%. Of the three
countries, the United Kingdom’s contribution to collaboration with African researchers
increased the most. Belgium increased its contribution from 5.5% during 1991–1995 to
6.9% during 1996–2000, and then up to 12% during 2001–2005.
Journals, subject categories and author keywords
The 1086 public health related articles published between 1991 and 2005 were published in
346 journals. Table 3 shows the names of the journals and the numbers and percentages of
articles published by each journal. Only journals that had published at least 10 of these
articles are listed in Table 3. Journals in which these articles were published belonged
to 96 subject categories, as defined by the ISI Web of Science. Table 4 shows the top 15
subject categories in descending order of their percentages. The top subject category was
Public, Environmental & Occupational Health, encompassing 59% of the articles. The other
top subject categories were Tropical Medicine (21%), General & Internal Medicine (16%),
Infectious Diseases (10%), Parasitology (7.3%) and Immunology (5.9%).
TABLE 3: Journals in which public health related articles were published by African researchers between 1991 and 2005.
TABLE 4: The number of public health related articles published by African researchers between 1991 and 2005 by subject category.†
The examination of author keywords revealed that 2131 different author keywords were used
for these 1086 articles. The most frequently used author keyword was ‘public health’,
which appeared in 4.8% of all articles, followed by ‘children’ (3.6%) and ‘
epidemiology’ (3.6%). Frequently used author keywords relating to a specific disease were
‘malaria’ (3.3%), ‘tuberculosis’ (1.9%), ‘HIV’ (1.7%) and
‘schistosomiasis’ (0.92%). ‘Women’ and ‘pregnancy’ were
also frequently used, appearing in combination in about 2% of all articles.
Table 5 shows a comparison of the regions in Africa in terms of the number of articles
published, author keywords, international collaborations and subject categories. The numbers
of articles published by researchers from the North, East, South, West and Central regions
were 162, 255, 316, 276 and 77, respectively. The percentage of articles with international
collaboration was highest in the East region at 71%, followed by the Central region at 66%.
The other three regions were all below 60%, with the North region lowest at 44%. An ANOVA
showed that the effect of region was significant, (F(4,1081) = 8.508, p = 0.001).
Post-hoc analyses showed that the East region was statistically more likely than the North,
South and West regions to publish articles with international collaboration. Researchers in
different regions appeared to collaborate with certain countries. In general, researchers in
the East and South collaborated mostly with researchers from the United States and the
United Kingdom. Researchers in the North and the West regions mainly collaborated with North
American and French researchers, whilst those in the Central region collaborated mainly with
researchers from France and Belgium.
TABLE 5: : Comparison between regions in Africa in terms of the number of public health related articles published, international collaboration, author keywords used and subject categorisation.
Despite similarities in subject categories, the North region had a different outlook from the
other regions. Firstly, it did not have one dominant subject category whilst more than half of
the articles from the other four regions were published in the ‘Public, Environmental
& Occupational Health’ category. Secondly, the North was the only region that also
published extensively on other aspects of public health besides the clinical and
epidemiological subjects. It was also the only region in which researchers published
extensively in subject categories such as ‘Environmental Sciences’, and ‘Food,
Science & Technology’, whilst the other regions had more publications in categories
such as ‘Pathology’ and ‘Immunology’.
Keywords also differed amongst regions. Generic keywords with a general scope, such as
‘public health’, ‘epidemiology’, ‘prevalence’,
‘mortality’ and ‘risk factors’, were present in all regions.
However, some keywords were region specific. For instance, ‘HIV’ and ‘
tuberculosis’ were amongst the top keywords in the East and South regions, but not
in the other regions. ‘Children’ was an important keyword in the North, South,
and West regions, whilst ‘schistosomiasis’ was important in the North region,
‘malaria’ in the West region and ‘cysticercosis’ in the Central region.
The annual number of public health related articles published by researchers in African
institutions has significantly increased over the last 15 years. Several factors may have
contributed to the increasing trend. Firstly, the global responses to AIDS launched by the
WHO in 1987 may have channelled more resources to public health research in Africa in the
1990s.20 Furthermore, donor agencies, such as the International Monetary Fund or
World Bank, began to direct funding support through international NGOs, local NGOs and
universities in the 1980s, and may have greatly changed how public health researchers
conducted studies in Africa. This study showed that the number of articles with international
collaboration, as well as the average number of countries involved in an article, has
increased significantly. This finding is consistent with previous research.9
The increase in international collaboration may have contributed to the upward trend in
the number of articles being published. Overall, African researchers have close ties with
European and North American researchers. Previous research has revealed that locations,
cultural relations and language are determinants of research collaboration.21
Thus, possible reasons that African researchers are more likely to collaborate with
European or North American researchers may probably be attributed to their familiarity
with the French and English languages, their proximity to Europe, the availability of
research funding and the past colonial history of their country. It is possible that the
source of funding may also affect the choice of collaboration partnership. Research in
AIDS clinical trials showed that only a small portion of trials had a researcher located
in an African institution as the principle investigator, whilst the majority of principle
investigators were located in Europe and North America.22 Another relationship
worth examining is that between the location of academic training of researchers and the
choice of partnership. Further studies can be conducted to verify the presence and magnitude
of such a pattern.
The extent of collaboration with researchers in Asian countries, compared to European or
North American countries, is much lower. Because of similarities in public health concerns,
it may be beneficial for both African and Asian countries to engage in more frequent
exchanges of knowledge, expertise and research ideas. However, issues of language and
lack of knowledge of the continent could make efforts to increase collaborations between
African and Asian researchers difficult and such collaborations may be slow to develop.
One would expect that, as more academic exchanges occur between African and Asian countries,
more collaborations would also naturally develop. A further study could focus on the
collaboration pattern between Asian and African countries to verify if such a phenomenon
Significant variations in bibliometric characteristics across regions of Africa were observed
in this study. For instance, articles published by researchers in the East region were more
likely to have been published through international collaboration than others. This is probably
indicative of the extent of international involvement in this region. It could also be that
public health problems in this region are more consistent with public health priorities of
international organisations. Countries of collaboration, with the exception of collaboration
with the United States, were consistent with the past colonial history of that region.
The United States had high levels of collaboration with all regions of Africa, except for
the Central region. A closer look at US military involvement and US-based international
organisations in these regions may provide additional insights; however, such an investigation
is beyond the scope of this paper. Keywords and subject categories of articles also varied
amongst the regions. The differences in keywords and subject categories probably reflect
differences in public health problems and research priorities in the various regions.
There were some limitations to this study. We included only articles published in the SCI-Expanded,
which represents only a portion of public health articles published by African researchers.
Other relevant publications, such as books, newsletters and research reports published by local
institutions and NGOs, were not included in this study.
Some articles may not follow the conventional format of reporting author address, and might
be excluded from analysis. For instance, articles may only include the capital city and not
the country of affiliation, leading to an underestimation of the total number of articles
published in a country. One would, however, expect the possibility of such instances to
decrease over time as many journals now use an electronic submission platform which usually
requires authors to provide such information. Another limitation is that the use of the keyword
‘public health’ may be too limiting to include all articles related to public
health. For example, some studies used ‘prevention’, ‘intervention’,
or some specific disease names without mentioning ‘public health’. Studies on
malaria medication or an AIDS clinical trial, which are highly relevant to public health,
are unlikely to be always indexed as such. Thus, the generality of the study may be a limitation
and findings from this study should be interpreted in the appropriate context. Nevertheless,
within its limited scope, this study still reveals useful information for research policy
formulation and resource allocation. Future research may include the Social Science Citation
Index, in addition to SCI-Expanded, as the data source, which would contribute to the
understanding of the trends of public health articles based on concepts and methodologies
from the social sciences.
In summary, the growth in the number of public health related articles by researchers in
African institutions has been promising; and this pattern of growth is expected to continue.
Significant variations in article publishing were observed across regions. Hence, future
research on bibliometric analyses of articles published by African researchers should conduct
regional comparisons with standardised methods, as well as describe the overall patterns,
in order to provide a more comprehensive view of their bibliometric characteristics.
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