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Intra-African collaboration lags in Covid-19 research


Most pandemic work on the continent is funded by and carried out with non-Africans

Sub-Saharan Africa contributed around 2 per cent of global research on Covid-19 in the first eight months of the pandemic, fresh data shows. 

The analysis, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, was uploaded on the open-access preprint repository AfricArXiv on 1 February.

Its two authors, Toluwase Asubiaro based in Canada and Nigeria, and Hafsah Shaik in South Africa, searched the research publication database Scopus for publications on Covid-19. Of the 45,000 papers they found on the database as of 1 September last year, 899 had at least one author affiliated to an institution in a sub-Saharan country, making up about 2 per cent of the total. 

However, more than half the publications in that subset were collaborations with international partners, with the United States and the United Kingdom dominating. A mere 4 per cent of the papers were collaborations within sub-Saharan Africa only. 

The dearth of intra-African collaboration is a pattern seen in many other fields of research in Africa, the authors write. It could be explained by the lack of research funding for such collaborations generally, and for Covid-19 specifically, they add. 

While South Africa’s government funded some research, most funding came from outside Africa, they found. There was “no indication” that funding came from other regional African organisations, like the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, or the Southern African Development Community. 

Both the scant intra-African collaboration and the shortage of funding from the continent require action, the pair of researchers say, as this will ensure research in Africa is better suited to African challenges. 

“While Sub-Saharan Africa’s participation in global Covid-19 collaboration is a great development for research visibility and healthcare delivery in the region, there is also a need to expand pan-African collaboration that will focus on health research in which individuals of African descent will be properly represented,” they write. 

“There is a need to forge stronger pan-African research collaboration networks, through funding from Africa’s national and regional government organizations, with the specific objective of meeting Covid-19 healthcare needs of Africans,” they add