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The Profile of Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) research in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region: Analyzing the NCD burden, research outputs and international research collaboration

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Patel, Preeti 
Ekzayez, Abdulkarim  ORCID logo
Coutts, Adam 


Objectives: Despite the rising risk factor exposure and non-communicable disease (NCD) mortality across the Middle East and the North African (MENA) region, public health policy responses have been slow and appear discordant with the social, economic and political circumstances in each country. Good health policy and outcomes are intimately linked to a research-active culture, particularly in NCD. In this study we present the results of a comprehensive analysis of NCD research with particular a focus on cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease in 10 key countries that represent a spectrum across MENA between 1991 and 2018. Methods: The study uses a well validated bibliometric approach to undertake a quantitative analysis of research output in the ten leading countries in biomedical research in the MENA region on the basis of articles and reviews in the Web of Science database. We used filters for each of the three NCDs and biomedical research to identify relevant papers in the WoS. The countries selected for the analyses were based on the volume of research outputs during the period of analysis and stability, included Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Results: A total of 495,108 biomedical papers were found in 12,341 journals for the ten MENA countries (here we consider Turkey in the context of MENA). For all three NCDs, Turkey's output is consistently the highest. Iran has had considerable growth in research output to occupy second place across all three NCDs. It appears that, relative to their wealth (measured by GDP), some MENA countries, particularly Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, are substantially under-investing in biomedical research. In terms of investment on particular NCDs, we note the relatively greater commitment on cancer research compared with diabetes or cardiovascular disease in most MENA countries, despite cardiovascular disease causing the greatest health-related burden. When considering the citation impact of research outputs, there have been marked rises in citation scores in Qatar, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates and Oman. However, Turkey, which has the largest biomedical research output in the Middle East has the lowest citation scores overall. The level of intra-regional collaboration in NCD research is highly variable. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the dominant research collaborators across the MENA region. However, Turkey and Iran, which are amongst the leading research-active countries in the area, show little evidence of collaboration. With respect to international collaboration, the United States and United Kingdom are the dominant research partners across the region followed by Germany and France. Conclusion: The increase in research activity in NCDs across the MENA region countries during the time period of analysis may signal both an increasing focus on NCDs which reflects general global trends, and greater investment in research in some countries. However, there are several risks to the sustainability of these improvements that have been identified in particular countries within the region. For example, a lack of suitably trained researchers, low political commitment and poor financial support, and minimal international collaboration which is essential for wider global impact.



Research Article, Medicine and health sciences, People and places, Research and analysis methods

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Public Library of Science
Economic and Social Research Council (ES/P010962/1)