Study analyzes medical research productivity in Arab countries

​​​Sally Abou Melhem <sa256@aub.edu.lb>​ Office of Communications

A team of researchers at AUB and AUBMC, led by Dr. Elie A. Akl from the Clinical Research Institute and the Department of Internal Medicine, conducted a bibliometric study to assess recent trends in medical research productivity in Arab countries. The study concluded that although medical research output in Arab countries at both the country and the institution levels has increased over the past 10 years, it is still lagging behind the rest of the world. It found the percentage of papers involving international collaborations was relatively high, but the majority of these papers were led by authors from outside the local institution, particularly ​when published in the top 10 percent journals.

The study, titled “Medical research productivity in the Arab countries: 2007-2016 bibliometric analysis,” found that the Arab world produced 189 papers per one million people, which is about a quarter of the value for other world countries. It also revealed that the research production of four Arab countries (Qatar, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Kuwait) exceeded the world average. In addition, the study found that the average number of citations per paper rose from 9.2 to more than 15, for papers with international collaboration.

At the institutional level, the study highlighted an upwards trend for the number of citations over the past 10 years, with six institutions, including AUB, having an average citation per paper higher than that of all Arab countries. 

Moreover, the study revealed that AUB has the highest number of citations per paper among universities in the Arab world (13.8), which is considered an indication of the quality of research. The university also has the highest percentage of papers published in first quartile journals (36 percent), papers published in first quartile journals with lead/correspondence author from institution (32 percent), and papers published in in the top 10 percent journals with lead/correspondence author from institution (10 percent). When restricting to papers where the lead authorship is from the institution, AUB moves to the first rank (i.e., highest percentage of papers with international collaboration and lead authorship from the institution; 29 percent). 

AUB produces 63 percent of all health research in Lebanon. It ranks a close second in terms of percent national contribution, after Kuwait University, which produces 65 percent of all health research in Kuwait. AUB also has the second highest percentage of papers published in top 10 percent journals (12.7 percent) after King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Saudi Arabia at 13.1 percent. It has the third highest percentage of papers with international collaboration (64 percent).

The study finally recommended that there is a need to maintain the momentum of increasing number of publications while improving their quality, and noted that “capacity building in conducting medical research would be essential for that purpose.” That refers to conducting capacity building at the levels of individuals, research teams, organizations, and country-wide has been proposed. 

The recommendations also included “strengthening national funding programs and building the research infrastructure (including regulatory and supervisory bodies).” And, “while there are many reasons for institutions to pursue regional as well as international research collaborations, a possible increase in citation rate would be an extra advantage.” Other institutional level interventions include instatement of tenure, intramural funding programs, establishing doctoral and postdoctoral programs, and faculty compensation schemes that incentivize research. “Institutions and authors can also use social media to disseminate their research output. The use of social media will benefit both the institution and the author by making the publications easier to find and access and presumably increase citation impact.” 

According to the authors of the study, this is the first article to analyze the quality and quantity of medical research in Arab countries using bibliographic resources such as Essential Science Indicators, Journal Citation Reports, and Web of Science database. Previous studies on research productivity in Arab countries have mainly used the Medline database. 

Information collected for this study included bibliometric data for the world countries, Arab countries, and Arab institutions for 2007-2016, number of published papers overall and per year, citations per paper, and number of papers published in top quartile and top 10 percent journals. For the 10 most productive institutions, the team also collected the number of papers with correspondence authors affiliated with the institution.

Authors of the study (in alphabetical order)

  • Dr. Elie A. Akl, Clinical Research Institute and Department of Internal Medicine
  • Dr. Ali Bazarbachi, Department of Internal Medicine and Department of Anatomy, Cell Biology and Physiological Sciences
  • Rola El Rassi, Clinical Research Institute administrator
  • Dr. Lokman Meho, University Librarian
  • Acile Nahlawi​
  • Dr. Johnny Salameh, Department of Neurology