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Geography of medical publications. An overview of HIV/AIDS research in 2003

Ramos, José M; Gutiérrez, Félix; Padilla, Sergio; Masiá, Mar; Martín-Hidalgo, Alberto

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Research is important in the development and progress of countries. Biomedical research projects normally lead to publications in the serial literature. Original articles allow investigators to present their scientific observations, and the publication of an investigator's project allows the information to be shared by the scientific community. Publications are often used as a measure of the success of research work. Over the past few years there has been growing interest in developing scientific indicators, capable of facilitating the analysis of the results of research activities [1,2]. Investigations into HIV infections/AIDS have steadily increased during the past two decades, according to the number of individuals living with HIV or the economic outcome. Although several countries around the world are devoting efforts and resources to fight HIV/AIDS, their contribution in terms of research results according to the number of individuals living with HIV or economic outcomes is not well known. The aim of this investigation was to compare the number of publications on HIV/AIDS in the world normalized to population size, gross domestic product (GDP) and cases of HIV infection.

The Science Citation Index Expanded and Social Science Citation Index was searched with the internet provider ISI Web of Knowledge (Web of Science) in July 2004 ( Searches were performed using the words ‘HIV’ or ‘human immunodeficiency virus’ or ‘AIDS’ or ‘acquired immunodeficiency syndrome’ in the topics field (title, abstracts and keywords). This search was performed for each country in the address field. The year of the search was 2003 (timespan = 2003). Population data, physician data and GDP data were obtained from the World Bank Atlas 2003 [3]. The estimated number of individuals living with HIV at the end of 2003 was obtained from UNAIDS [4].

From 1 211 586 publications included in the databases, a total of 11 826 papers dealing with HIV/AIDS (0.97%) were recovered. The number of medical publications on HIV/AIDS infection per country is shown in Table 1. The leading countries according to the total number of publications were the USA, UK, and France (Table 1). Interestingly, the ratio of a country's HIV/AIDS publications to the total number of papers in the medical literature was higher in African countries (Malawi, Zambia, and Rwanda). When normalized by population, if we exclude the USA, smaller countries such as Switzerland, Luxembourg and Israel turned out to be the most productive. Normalized by GDP, we found that African countries such as Gambia, Malawi and Guinea-Bissau were the most productive countries. If we calculate the ratio between the number of HIV publications and the estimated number of individuals living with HIV, western countries with a small number of HIV cases become the most productive, whereas African countries with a greater number of HIV cases are lagging far behind from the leading positions of HIV publications.

Table 1
Table 1:
Number of medical publications in HIV/AIDS infection in relation to indicators (2003).

We are aware that the method we used has several limitations. For example, the database employed includes mainly journals published in English. Therefore, publications in other languages may have been missed. In addition, as the addresses of all authors are recorded in the address field, one paper signed by authors from different countries could have been counted more than once [5]. However, the present method is simple and easily repeatable in the future.

Our analysis indicates that countries with a greater estimated number of individuals living with HIV are not leading the scientific production on HIV/AIDS. Efforts should be made to help those countries to develop research strategies and projects that can hopefully lead to improving efforts against HIV/AIDS.


Supported in part by the “Red Temática Cooperativa de Investigaicoń en SIDA” (Red de grupos 173) del FISss.


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3 World Bank Atlas 2003. Washington, DC: The World Bank; 2003.
4 2004 Report of the global AIDS epidemic: 4th global report. Geneva: World Health Organization Library; 2004.
5 Mela GS, Mancardi GL. Neurological research in Europe, as assessed with a four-year overview of neurological science international journals. J Neurol 2002; 249:390–395.
© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.