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Nigerian Biomedical Science Community on a Global Scale

Mohammed Auwal Ibrahim, PhD

Thursday, 21 January 2021

In the global quest to develop vaccines against COVID-19, the Nigerian Biomedical science community was under public scrutiny on social media. Series of debates on the quality and quantity of scientific contribution from the Nigerian biomedical scientists ensued. It is hard to arrive at a logical conclusion without some analyses on knowledge production in the biomedical fields, especially in terms of scientific publications. These analyses can be achieved using globally recognised research databases.

Scopus is the largest and most versatile research database in the world. It is a popular source of author- and institution-based research information for researchers, research analysts and the world university ranking bodies. The biomedical sciences are mainly spread across four subject areas within the Scopus database namely: Medicine, Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology, Immunology and Microbiology, Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics and Neuroscience.

Within these subject areas, University of Ibadan is the most productive university in Nigeria with a total of 13,192 research publications in the database followed by University of Nigeria, Nsukka (7,534), Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (5,922), University of Lagos (5,385) and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (5,242). In comparison, however, Harvard Medical School, USA, has a total of 390,482 scientific publications, while University of Tokyo, Japan, University of Melborne, Australia, and China Medical University, have 120,717, 131,518, and 34,709, respectively. The University of Sao Paolo, Brazil and University of Sussex, UK have158,231 and 17,054 scientific publications, respectively.

In simple terms, with the current annual average of around 1,200 scientific publications by the University of Ibadan, it will require about 325 years to reach Harvard Medical School, while 100, 109 and 131 years will be needed to meet up with University of Tokyo, University of Melborne, and University of Sao Paolo, respectively, if these universities are to (theoretically) stop scientific publications now.

Meditating on Beach
Covid 19

Muhammad Auwal in action

The total output of Harvard Medical School (21,193) in just 2020 is more than the combined total output of University of Ibadan and University of Nigeria, Nsukka in the last 60 years. Similar, or even wider, gaps exist when other indices of knowledge production and innovation, such as number of patents, are considered. Thus, it is clear that the gap in scientific knowledge production between Nigerian Universities and other Universities around the globe is very high and this might invariably account for our poor state of industrialization. This is because scientific knowledge production is a key and perhaps, the most important driver of industrial development and economic prosperity.

In Africa, universities such as the University of Cape Town, South Africa (36,122), University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (18,968), Alexandria University, Egypt (14,741), University of Pretoria (17,385) are doing rather better than the most productive Nigerian University, within the afore-mentioned biomedical science fields. So, it means that Nigerian biomedical science is also not at the topmost position in Africa in terms of knowledge production within these fields.

While some may argue the rationale for comparing Nigerian universities with top-flight global universities, such a comparison is important for the public to appreciate the gap to avoid presumptions and misinformation. It could also serve as the basis for introspection especially with regards to factors responsible for the huge gap, such as research funding. For instance, in 2019, Harvard Medical School obtained $308 million (approximately, 123 billion Naira) as total research grants for the year. Though the total research grant obtained by the five most productive Nigerian Universities is not immediately available, it is worthy to state that the 2020 total TETFund research funding was 7.5 billion Naira which is the highest allocation received and highly commendable. The amount, however, was meant for research across the entire Nigerian public Universities and fields of studies and so, it is quite a herculean task for a Biomedical Science Community of a single Nigerian university to fetch 250 million out of the total amount. So, there is a very wide gap in the sources and value of research fund and the pattern is not different when the other top-flight global universities are considered.

This is apart from other considerations such as conducive research environment, equipment and electricity. Another important factor that might account for the wide gap is the total number of scientists in the institutions. When these wide gaps in resources are considered in relation to the low performance in scientific production, the Nigerian Biomedical Science community could be seen to be doing fairly well to meet up with expectations. This might be evident from the contribution of the community towards mitigating the impact of the pandemic through public enlightenment and sensitization campaigns, basic epidemiological research, and in fact, provided the first genome sequence of the virus from Africa. So, the low research output of the Nigerian Biomedical Science Community could be profoundly enhanced through strategically improved research funding and other research requirements since the manpower, passion and zeal are quite available.

Authors note: The data data from the Scopus was recovered on 16th January, 2021.

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