South Africa ranks third in HIV/AIDS research output globally

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Speed read

  • Of the 37.9 million people globally with HIV, 20.6 million live in Eastern and Southern Africa
  • New report ranks South Africa as the third top nation in generating HIV/AIDS research papers
  • The rankling reflects the investment in South Africa’s research workforce

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[NAIROBI] South Africa is the third top producer of HIV/AIDS-related research globally, a study says. 
New data by Elsevier, which analysed HIV/AIDS-related research published from 2014 to 2018, shows that South Africa comes after the United Kingdom and United States as top producers of HIV/AIDS-related research

“We think that this report is relevant to anyone working in public health, HIV/AIDS research…”

Maria De Kleijn-Lloyd, Elsevier Analytics

HIV is still a major public health problem globally. According to the UNAIDS, there were about 37.9 million people across the globe with HIV/AIDS in 2018, with Eastern and Southern Africa alone having 20.6 million people living with HIV.  

“South Africa published a total of 6,823 publications between 2014 and 2018, compared to 7,879 publications in the United Kingdom,” says Maria De Kleijn-Lloyd, senior vice-president of Elsevier Analytics, adding that the United States produced 35,493 publications over the period.

“We believe that these findings may reflect a combination of the high priority this research has taken in African countries where rates of HIV/AIDS are high, and where the research culture and infrastructure is strong,” she adds.

According to the report released this week (26 November), researchers also estimated the relative activity index, which is a measure of the proportion of a nation’s research output in HIV/AIDS relative to the percentage identified globally. The report found that the relative activity in HIV/AIDS research was highest in four countries in Sub-Saharan Africa: Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda.

The University of Cape Town in South Africa came top globally for producing highly influential HIV/AIDS research in terms of citations.

“South Africa not only produces a lot of HIV/AIDS research; it is also highly regarded by scholars worldwide,” explains Kleijn-Lloyd, adding that South Africa’s leading position may suggest the importance of support for research overall in the country and the investment made into a strong research workforce.

Bamini Jayabalasingham, a senior analytical product manager at Elsevier, says their goal was to understand the research landscape of HIV/AIDS across the world, including progression and trends as well as which countries and institutions were leading the charge.

“We conducted this research using a suite of different Elsevier research analytics platforms, including the Elsevier’s SciVal and Scopus databases,” says Jayabalasingham. “By better understanding how and where research is being done, we hope to continue to support research institutes, funders, governments and researchers themselves who work on HIV/AIDS.”

The report means that Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda have made battling the disease a priority in research funding and execution, expecting positive outcomes for society, Jayabalasingham adds.

It also underlines the importance of doing research where the impact is felt.

“This holds true, especially for understanding the social, economic and cultural factors like access to treatment where solutions cannot simply be copied from one geographical location to the next,” according to Jayabalasingham.

Kleijn-Lloyd tells SciDev.Net, “We think that this report is relevant to anyone working in public health, HIV/AIDS research as well as the broader ecosystem supporting this [HIV/AIDS], including research institutes, the private sector, governments, non-governmental organisation and other funding bodies.”

Quarraisha Abdool Karim, associate scientific director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa, says the success, knowledge generation and unprecedented response to HIV/AIDS is because of the global scientific and programmatic collaborations. 

“It is this synergy that has enabled us to generate new knowledge and rapidly translate it programmatically at a country level,” she tells SciDev.Net.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.