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Assessment of research productivity of Arab countries in the field of infectious
diseases using Web of Science database
Infectious Diseases of Poverty 2015, 4:2
Waleed M Sweileh ([email protected])
Samah W Al-Jabi ([email protected])
Alaeddin Abuzanat ([email protected])
Ansam F Sawalha ([email protected])
Adham S AbuTaha ([email protected])
Mustafa A Ghanim ([email protected])
Sa¿ed H Zyoud ([email protected])
Article type
Research Article
Submission date
27 August 2014
Acceptance date
22 December 2014
Publication date
2 February 2015
Article URL
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Assessment of research productivity of Arab
countries in the field of infectious diseases using
Web of Science database
Waleed M Sweileh1*
Corresponding author
Email: [email protected]
Samah W Al-Jabi2
Email: [email protected]
Alaeddin Abuzanat3
Email: [email protected]
Ansam F Sawalha1
Email: [email protected]
Adham S AbuTaha1
Email: [email protected]
Mustafa A Ghanim4
Email: [email protected]
Sa’ed H Zyoud2
Email: [email protected]
Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, College of Medicine and Health
Sciences, An-Najah National University, Nablus, Palestine
Department of Clinical and Community Pharmacy, College of Medicine and
Health Sciences, An-Najah National University, Nablus, Palestine
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, College of Medicine and Health
Sciences, An-Najah National University, Nablus, Palestine
Department of Biochemistry and Genetics, College of Medicine and Health
Sciences, An-Najah National University, Nablus, Palestine
To meet the future challenges of infectious diseases and limit the spread of multidrug
resistant microorganisms, a better understanding of published studies in the field of infectious
diseases is needed. The objective of this study was to analyze the quantity and quality of
research activity in the field of infectious diseases in Arab countries and compare it with that
in non-Arab countries.
Documents published in Arab countries within the research category of “infectious diseases”
were extracted and analyzed using the Web of Science database. The data analyzed represent
research productivity during the time interval between 1900 – 2012.
Worldwide, the total number of documents published in the field of infectious diseases up to
2012 was 227,188. A total of 2,408 documents in the field of infectious diseases were
published in Arab countries, which represents 1.06% of worldwide research output. Research
output from Arab countries in the field of infectious diseases was low for decades. However,
approximately a five-fold increase was observed in the past decade. Arab countries ranked
56th to 218th on the standard competition ranking (SCR) in worldwide publications in the field
of infectious diseases. Egypt, with a total publication of 464 (19.27%) documents ranked first
among Arab countries, while Kuwait University was the most productive institution with a
total of 158 (6.56%) documents. Average citation per document published in Arab countries
was 13.25 and the h-index was 64. Tuberculosis (230; 9.55%), malaria (223; 9.26%), and
hepatitis (189; 7.8%) were the top three infectious diseases studied as according to the
retrieved documents.
The present data reveals that some Arab countries contribute significantly to the field of
infectious diseases. However, Arab countries need to work harder to bridge the gap in this
field. Compared with non-Arab countries in the Middle East, research output from Arab
countries was high, but more efforts are needed to enhance the quality of this output. Future
research in the field should be encouraged and correctly directed.
Bibliometric, Infectious diseases, Arab world, Web of Science
Multilingual abstracts
Please see Additional file 1 for translation of the abstract into the six official working
languages of the United Nations.
According to the Arab Union League, there are 22 independent Arab states with more than
400 million inhabitants. Poverty, inadequate health services, political instability, and
outbreaks of infectious diseases are common in many Arab countries [1-3]. For example,
there was an outbreak of polio in Syria that made international agencies call for a ceasefire to
accomplish a polio vaccination campaign [4]. Another example is the cholera outbreak in
Baghdad after the second Gulf War [5]. In Saudi Arabia, several mortalities have been
attributed to Middle East respiratory syndrome caused by the coronavirus infection [6-8].
Furthermore, pilgrimage and other religious seasons create a true challenge for Saudi Arabia
to prevent and control outbreaks of infectious diseases during religious seasons [9-11].
Different types of infectious diseases are prevalent and have become a health burden for
governments in many Arab countries. For example, according to the World Health
Organization (WHO), in conservative communities that Arab countries fall into, HIV
infections are rising at a faster rate, while the coverage of antiretroviral therapy is the lowest
[12]. Furthermore, highly pathogenic and serious viral infections such as the avian flu virus,
hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are important risks of morbidity and mortality, and pose real
threats in some Arab countries such as Egypt [13-17]. Similarly, serious parasitic infections
such as malaria, schistosomiasis, and trypanosomiasis constitute a major health, social, and
economic challenge in Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, and other Arab countries [18-23]. Zoonotic
infections, such as brucellosis and hydatid disease, are also present in several Arab countries
and pose a continuous health challenge [24-28]. Furthermore, some infectious diseases such
as nematode infections, filarial infections, schistosomiasis, fascioliasis, leprosy, and trachoma
are endemic in some Arab countries and are being neglected [29]. In addition to the
abovementioned challenges pertaining to infectious diseases, there is evidence that serious
and common infectious agents in the Arab region, such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis,
Staphylococcus aureus, and some gram-negative bacilli are developing multiple drug
resistance which is a real future public health challenge at regional and global levels [30-38].
To meet future challenges regarding infectious diseases and limit the spread of multidrug
resistant microorganisms in Arab countries, a better understanding of published studies in the
field of infectious diseases is needed to have baseline data in this field so that future research
can be encouraged and correctly directed. No bibliometric studies have addressed
microbiological, or parasitological or viral or infectious diseases research activity in the Arab
region. Most bibliometric studies in Arab countries have focused on biomedical research in
general or on other medical areas [39,40]. Therefore, this study was carried out to investigate
the quantity and quality of research activity in Arab countries in the field of infectious
diseases. This bibliometric study assessed the past and current research activity in Arab
countries in the field of infectious diseases, in order to draw future attention to research in
this field.
The Web of Science (WoS) database was used to achieve the objective of this study. The
WoS is a trustworthy, large, and powerful database for literature retrieval and analysis [41].
All Arab countries: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar,
Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia, Syrian Arab Republic (SAR), United Arab Emirates
(UAE), Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Somalia,
and Palestine, were used as the country keys, followed by “infectious diseases,” which was
used as the WoS category. Because WoS does not recognize Palestine as an independent state
yet, search for documents about infectious diseases from Palestine was carried out using
separate search keys in the database.
The search keys for the 21 Arab countries looked like this: (CU = (Jordan) OR CU = (Iraq)
OR CU = (Syria) OR CU = (Saudi) OR CU = (Kuwait) OR CU = (Egypt) OR CU = (Yemen)
OR CU = (Qatar) OR CU = (Emirates) OR CU = (Bahrain) OR CU = (Oman) OR CU =
(Sudan) OR CU = (Tunisia) OR CU = (Algeria) OR CU = (Lebanon) OR CU = (Libya) OR
CU = (Morocco) OR CU = (Somalia) OR CU = (Djibouti) OR CU = (Comoros) OR CU =
(Mauritania)) AND WC = (infectious diseases). The search keys for Palestine looked like
this: WC = (infectious diseases) AND CI = ((Nablus) OR (Jenin) OR (Ramallah) OR
(Bethlehem) OR (Tulkarm) OR (Abu Dis) OR (Gaza)) AND CU = (Israel). The search for
Palestinian research output in infectious diseases was based on the list of major Palestinian
cities as a key research in addition to the name of Israel as a country since the WoS does not
recognize Palestine as a state and considers all Palestinian publications to be affiliated with
The results from 21 Arab countries and those from Palestine were combined and the resultant
data were analyzed. To increase the accuracy of the results, research was refined and limited
to original research articles and review articles because they represent actual research
activities, while other types of documents such as editorials, conference proceedings, and
others were excluded. The timeframe for the results included all years up to 2012. The years
2013 and 2014 were excluded in order to enhance the accuracy of the results. If we included
recent years, then we might not be able to retrieve the same number of documents if we re-do
the analysis several months later because some journal issues are released and uploaded to
WoS several months after publication online.
The WoS generates a count of the total number of original articles, total citations, and the
value of the h-index. Scientific output was evaluated based on a methodology developed and
used in other bibliometric studies [42-47]. The collected data were used to generate the
following information: (a) total and trends of contributions in infectious diseases research up
until the specified date of December 31, 2012; (b) Arab countries research productivity; (c)
journals in which researchers from the Arab world were published; (d) h-index for retrieved
publications from Arab countries; and finally (e) comparison of the results obtained from
Arab countries with those obtained from non-Arab countries such as Turkey, Iran, and Israel.
Statistical analysis
Data from WoS were exported to a Microsoft Office® Excel spreadsheet and then transferred
to a Microsoft Word document. Results were converted to rank order using the standard
competition ranking (SCR). We took into consideration the top 10 ranked publications in
each item. If the measurements of bibliometric analysis had the same ranking number, then a
gap was left in the ranking numbers which followed. The journal’s impact factors (IF) were
evaluated using the Journal Citation Report® (JCR; Web of Science) 2012 science edition,
published by Thomson Reuters (New York, NY, USA).
The total number of worldwide documents retrieved from WoS using the methodology stated
and without specifying the name of any country was 227,188. When the same methodology
was applied using the list of Arab countries, 2,408 documents were retrieved. Therefore,
research output from Arab countries in the field of infectious diseases represents 1.06% of
worldwide research productivity. Table 1 lists the Arab countries and their standard
competition rank (SCR) worldwide. In the same table, three non-Arab Middle Eastern
countries are shown for comparative purposes.
Table 1 List of Arab countries and three non-Arab countries in the Middle East and
their Standard Competition Ranks (SCRs) in worldwide research productivity in the
field of infectious diseases
Arab Countries
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
United Arab Emirates
Worldwide SCR*
Non-Arab Countries
*Palestine is not recognized as an independent state in the WoS database, so rank could not be determine.
Palestine was explained in the methodology section.
Retrieval of documents from
The top 10 journals for publication of documents in the field of infectious diseases from Arab
countries are shown in Table 2. Approximately 8.5% of documents from Arab countries in
the field of infectious diseases were published in journals with an IF > 5. In terms of
worldwide documents, approximately 21.5% were published from journals with an IF > 5.
Table 2 Top 10 journals in which documents in the field of infectious diseases were
mostly published from Arab countries
SCRa Journal
Frequency N = 2408 (%)
202 (8.39)
1st Medecine et Maladies Infectieuses
138 (5.73)
2nd Bulletin de la Societe de Pathologie Exotique
127 (5.27)
3nd Journal of Infectious Diseases
115 (4.78)
4th International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease
98 (4.07)
5th Journal of Infection in Developing Countries
80 (3.32)
6th Emerging Infectious Diseases
77 (3.20)
7th Journal of Infection
73 (3.03)
8th Diagnostic Microbiology and Infectious Disease
69 (2.87)
9th Infection and Immunity
67 (2.78)
10th International Journal of Antimicrobial agents
67 (2.78)
10th International Journal of Infectious Diseases
Abbreviations: SCR = Standard Competition Ranking; NA = not available; IF = impact factor.
If equal journals have the same ranking number, then a gap is left in the ranking numbers.
The impact factor was reported according to the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) journal citation reports (JCR) 2012.
The annual number of worldwide published documents was low up until 1970. A steady and
obvious increase was seen after that. Growth of research in the field of infectious diseases
worldwide and from Arab countries is shown in Figure 1. The figure presents the data from
the 1960s to 2012. Data earlier than 1960 was excluded because the number of published
documents before 1960 was relatively low. Both worldwide and Arab countries have shown a
dramatic increase in research productivity in infectious diseases over time. The annual
number of documents published in Arab countries indicated that research output in the field
remained low until the mid-1980s and showed a great jump in the late 1990s. The first article
published in the field of infectious diseases in Arab countries was co-authored by an Arab
researcher from Egypt in 1928 [48]. The majority of documents retrieved from Arab
countries were published in English (2,087; 86.66%), followed by French (311; 12.92%), and
very few were published in Russian, Spanish, and German (10; 0.42%).
Figure 1 Growth of research productivity in the field of infectious diseases. The □ line
represents worldwide growth while the ▼ line represents growth of research in Arab
When the retrieved documents were analyzed by country, Egypt (464; 19.27%) had the
highest research output, followed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (437; 18.15%) and
Tunisia (365; 15.16%) (see Table 3). All Arab countries, even those with low income and/or
political instability such as Palestine, had some contribution to the field of infectious diseases
research. The most research productive institute was Kuwait University followed by the
American University in Beirut, with 158 (6.56%) and 139 (5.78%) documents, respectively.
Researchers in Arab countries collaborated most with researchers from the USA (475;
19.73%), France (257; 10.67%), and England (162; 6.73%).
Table 3 Research productivity of Arab and three non-Arab countries in the field of
infectious diseases, including the h-index and mean citation per document
Arab Country
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
United Arab Emirates
“non-Arab countries”
Frequency N = 2408 (%)
464 (19.27)
437 (18.15)
365 (15.16)
216 (8.97)
175 (7.27)
173 (7.18)
165 (6.85)
134 (5.57)
128 (5.32)
79 (3.28)
55 (2.28)
44 (1.83)
34 (1.41)
29 (1.20)
29 (1.20)
23 (0.96)
22 (0.91)
19 (0.79)
11 (0.46)
6 (0.25)
6 (0.25)
5 (0.21)
Non-Arab Countries versus 22 Arab Countries
Mean Citation Per Document
Of the 2,408 documents considered for the h-index, 64 had been cited at least 64 times at the
time of the data analysis. Analysis of citation revealed that the Arab country with the highest
h-index was Egypt (h-index = 41), while the country with the highest mean citation per
document was the United Arab Emirates (20 citations per document). Compared with other
non-Arab countries in the Middle East, the research output from Arab countries was higher
than that from Israel, Turkey, and Iran. However, the quality of research output from Arab
countries, measured as h-index, was less than that from Israel but higher than that from
Turkey or Iran (see Table 3). The top infectious diseases studied as per the retrieved
published documents were: tuberculosis (230; 9.55%), malaria (223; 9.26%), hepatitis (189;
7.8%), HIV (186; 7.72%), diarrhea/gastroenteritis (150; 6.23%), meningitis (115; 4.78%),
leishmaniasis (111; 4.6%), salmonella (92; 3.82%), and influenza (52; 2.16%).
In this study, we assessed research productivity in the field of infectious diseases in Arab
countries. Our results indicated that there is an obvious and promising rise in research activity
in Arab countries in this field. However, none of the Arab countries ranked among the first 50
countries in terms of worldwide contribution to research output in this field. This was
disappointing given that three non-Arab Middle Eastern countries—Israel, Iran, and
Turkey—were ranked among the first top 50 countries. Among the Arab countries, Egypt and
KSA occupied the top rank. Large populations and high national incomes are the most
probable reasons for this. Compared with non-Arab countries in the Middle East, the number
of published research documents in Arab countries was the highest. However, the quality of
the published documents in Arab countries, as measured by the h-index and/or average
citation per document, was lesser than that from Israel possibly because of the relatively low
impact factor (IF) of journals in which the bulk of the documents from Arab countries were
published. The citation is a key indicator of research quality [49]. The h-index was developed
to overcome the main disadvantages of other bibliometric indicators, such as total number of
papers or total number of citations. The h-index simultaneously measures the quality and
quantity of scientific output, and is one of the most commonly used indicators of research
quality. However, if the h-index is used to measure documents from different databases, then
this can give different values. Therefore, each database has pros and cons when being
measured by the h-index [50-52]. Criticisms have also been addressed to the use of the hindex as a marker of publication quality and citation. For example, the h-index does not
consider the context of citations or the number of authors in the document, and gives equal
values for book citation and research citations. Therefore, the h-index has a lesser predictive
accuracy and precision than measuring using mean citations per paper, although this is
controversial [53,54].
Infectious diseases have no borders and prevention; control and eradication of infectious
diseases requires worldwide efforts. Arab countries have been the source of some fatal
infectious diseases, and they should heavily participate and cooperate in research in order to
combat them [55-58]. For example, the Middle East respiratory syndrome was initially
diagnosed in KSA but reports of cases in distant parts of the world have been identified due
to people traveling from KSA [59-62]. Several research documents about serious infectious
agents such as the West Nile Virus have been published in the USA and Europe through
cooperation with Arab institutions and investigators [63,64]. Arab countries should also
cooperate in research regarding resistant cases of infectious agents particularly those
pertaining to Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Emergence of resistant strains causing
tuberculosis is a challenge for many developing countries [65]. Another important example of
an infectious disease common in Arab countries that has been investigated through several
cooperative research studies is leishmaniasis [66-68]. Cooperation in research becomes
evident when we compare research interests of Arab investigators with those in other
countries. Research collaboration improves the quality and quantity of research output, as
well as the visibility of national health problems [69-72]. Furthermore, international
collaboration in research helps in capacity building in developing countries and makes
national problems of developing countries more observable [73]. Arab researchers need to
take the lead and promote research projects in the field of infectious diseases as an important
public health concern. Obstacles to do research such as inadequate funding, an unstable
democratic atmosphere, and an unclear national policy toward health research are,
unfortunately, prevalent in Arab countries. Everyone should participate in the war against
infectious diseases including clerks and politicians who can help in the fight of infectious
diseases such as HIV/AIDS [74,75]. Researchers, academics, and healthcare professionals
should promote vaccinations against infectious diseases as well as public hygiene as a
methods of early prevention [76,77]. Research output from a particular country is not only a
point of prestige but also a reflection of the care of governments toward citizens and their
individual health. Of course, the research activity and capacity of a particular country
depends on several factors including the national income and the size of the population.
However, in the case of infectious diseases, Arab countries, with a population of over 400
million and huge resources, must strive for excellence in research pertaining to infectious
diseases. In addition, Arab countries need to invest in research in infectious diseases to limit
the spread of microbial drug resistance that might be unique in different world regions. To
achieve this, Arab countries must invest more in research activity in the field of infectious
Our study is the first to analyze the quantity and quality of research productivity in the field
of infectious diseases in Arab countries. The database used for analysis, Web of Science
(WoS), is one of the most trustworthy databases that allows for powerful citation analysis. It
is well known that the most leading and influential journals in the field of medicine and
health are indexed in WoS. However, articles published in non-WoS indexed journals were
not included in the analysis. Despite this, the aim of this paper was to initiate discussion
among professionals and academics pertaining to infectious diseases research activity in Arab
countries rather than criticize or praise the research activity itself.
Our study showed that research in the field of infectious diseases is rising in some Arab
countries such as Egypt and KSA, and that more efforts are required to bridge the gap with
some of the other countries. Research collaboration between institutions in Arab countries
with international researchers and institutions in the field of infectious diseases should be
sought. Governmental funding and support for infectious diseases research is also
WoS, Web of Science; KSA, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; USA, United States of America;
JCR, Journal citation report; SCR, Standard competition ranking; IFs, Impact factors.
Competing interests
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Authors’ contributions
All authors were involved in the drafting of the article and all authors approved the final
version to be submitted for publication. All authors added a significant intellectual value to
the manuscript.
The authors would like to express gratitude to the An-Najah University for help in conducting
this study.
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