A bibliometric analysis of COVID-19 research in Africa

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Fatuma Hassan Guleid, Robinson Oyando, Evelyn Kabia, Audrey Mumbi, Samuel Akech, Edwine Barasa


Background The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented global research effort to build a body of knowledge that can inform mitigation strategies. We carried out a bibliometric analysis to describe the COVID-19 research output in Africa in terms of setting, study design, research themes and author affiliation.

Methods We searched for articles published between 1 December 2019 and 3 January 2021 from various databases including PubMed, African Journals Online, medRxiv, Collabovid, the WHO global research database and Google. All article types and study design were included.

Results A total of 1296 articles were retrieved. 46.6% were primary research articles, 48.6% were editorial-type articles while 4.6% were secondary research articles. 20.3% articles used the entire continent of Africa as their study setting while South Africa (15.4%) was the most common country-focused setting. The most common research topics include ‘country preparedness and response’ (24.9%) and ‘the direct and indirect health impacts of the pandemic’ (21.6%). However, only 1.0% of articles focus on therapeutics and vaccines. 90.3% of the articles had at least one African researcher as author, 78.5% had an African researcher as first author, while 63.5% had an African researcher as last author. The University of Cape Town leads with the greatest number of first and last authors. 13% of the articles were published in medRxiv and of the studies that declared funding, the Wellcome Trust was the top funding body.

Conclusions This study highlights Africa’s COVID-19 research and the continent’s existing capacity to carry out research that addresses local problems. However, more studies focused on vaccines and therapeutics are needed to inform local development. In addition, the uneven distribution of research productivity among African countries emphasises the need for increased investment where needed.