COVID-19: Study augurs well for research output

30 June 2021 | Story Wachira Kigotho. Photo Robyn Walker. Read time 7 min.
UCT had the highest number of first and last authors of published COVID-19 articles in and about the continent.
UCT had the highest number of first and last authors of published COVID-19 articles in and about the continent.

Four South African universities – the University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University, the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of KwaZulu-Natal – led 15 institutions that contributed most to the science of COVID-19 in Africa during the first year of the pandemic, according to a bibliometric analysis conducted by a team of researchers.

The researchers are allied to the Kenya Medical Research Institute, the Wellcome Trust and the University of Oxford’s Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health.

In a study, ‘A bibliometric analysis of COVID-19 research in Africa’, published in the online medical journal BMJ Global Health, researchers noted that the four South African universities had the highest number of first and last authors of published COVID-19 articles in and about the continent.

The significance of the first and last authors is that the first author is often the person who has made the biggest intellectual contribution to the work in question, in terms of designing the study, analysing the data from experiments and writing the manuscript, while the last author is the supervisor of the research and, in that role, is considered to have made significant intellectual input.

According to Fatuma Guleid, a medical researcher at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)-Wellcome Trust research programme and associates that included Professor Edwine Barasa, the Nairobi director of the joint partnership, 1,296 peer-reviewed publications on COVID-19 research in Africa were retrieved from databases that included PudMed, a comprehensive archive of biomedical and life sciences journal publications and from Collabovid, a platform sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research that allows searching for COVID-19 related publications.

“Further searches were also conducted on 

medRxiv, a server for health sciences, operated by the United States-based Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, as well as on the World Health Organisation’s global research database for COVID-19 and Google,” said Barasa, who is also a visiting professor of health economics at Oxford University.

Developing scientific capacity

From the retrieved publications, the University of Cape Town had 40 first and 42 last authors, while Stellenbosch University was in the second position with 39 first and 36 last authors. The University of the Witwatersrand took third position with 25 first and 31 last authors, while the University of KwaZulu-Natal had 25 first authors and 22 last authors.

In the fifth position, Uganda’s Makerere University had 22 first and another 22 last authors, while the University of Pretoria in South Africa was in sixth position with 18 first and 19 last authors.

Other institutions that had more than 10 first authors included the University of Lagos (14), the University of Ibadan, Nigeria (13), Libya’s University of Tripoli (13), the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (12), and the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme (11).

Groote Schuur Hospital in South Africa, the University of Zimbabwe, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the United States each produced nine first authors, while Morocco’s Mohammed V University had eight first authors.

In the last author category, Cairo University, the University College London, the University of Ibadan and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine had 13, followed by the University of Lagos (12), the University of Oxford (12), the University of Tripoli (12), Groote Schuur Hospital (8), and KEMRI- Wellcome Trust Research Programme (7).

In Africa, South Africa had the highest COVID-19 research productivity with 200 papers, followed by Nigeria (160), Ethiopia (89), Egypt (70), Kenya (60), Uganda (51), Morocco (46) and Ghana (45). There were also 263 papers covering Africa as a whole and another 48 papers specifically covering COVID-19 research in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Unevenly distributed

Still, 90.3% of the 1,263 articles that were retrieved had at least one author affiliated to an African institution, while 78.5% of the articles had a first author affiliated to an African institution and 63.5% had a last author affiliated to an African research facility.

But there were concerns that more effort is needed to ensure even distribution of research productivity across the continent, as well as over specific areas of research.

The issue is that about 50% of the articles were of non-original research as they were commentaries and editorial-type pieces, while 20% used the entire continent of Africa as their study setting.

According to the study, other common topics of research included country preparedness and response, as well as direct and indirect health impacts of the pandemic and only 1% of the articles focused on COVID-19 treatment and vaccines.

Missing out in the database searches were publications in randomised controlled trials, as only five publications were retrieved.

Commenting on the issue, the researchers argued that a lack of local research in vaccine and therapeutics development is likely to lead to an over-reliance on non-African countries to provide these interventions which will delay availability in Africa.

“Africa requires interventions that fit the local context and are safe for the local population,” stated the researchers.


Highlighting issues of funding of COVID-19 science, the study noted that 12 out of 15 top funding bodies for COVID-19 articles in Africa were from outside the continent, while the other three were all from South Africa. They included the South African Medical Research Council, the National Research Foundation and the South African Department of Science and Innovation.

The top five funding bodies in that order included the British Wellcome Trust, the National Institutes of Health of the United States, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the British Department for International Development and National Institute for Health Research.

But, whereas external funding may have contributed to increasing scientific research capacity on the continent, the researchers argued that it might hinder the development of sustainable African-led knowledge production and may also deflect research priorities away from local needs.

“Few studies were funded by African organisations, and specifically, African governments,” noted the study.

Despite funding difficulties and uneven productivity challenges, the study pointed out that a high proportion of articles on COVID-19 science were by African researchers, in terms of being first or last authors, a situation that augurs well for further scientific research on the continent.

“Contrary to other studies on the output of research publication on infectious diseases, we find that African researchers have played a lead role in publishing COVID-19 research from the continent,” said Guleid and her associates.

Although most of the articles were published in medRxiv, three African journals, The Pan African Medical JournalSouth African Medical Journal and African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine, featured in the top 15 journals publishing COVID-19 articles in Africa.

But, as Guleid and her colleagues pointed out, there is still a long way to go and the development of local journals and publishing houses should be encouraged so as to create a direct avenue for local academics and researchers to publish their research findings in Africa.

This article first appeared on University World.

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UCT’s response to COVID-19

COVID-19 is a global pandemic that caused President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster in South Africa on 15 March 2020 and to implement a national lockdown from 26 March 2020. UCT is taking the threat of infection in our university community extremely seriously, and this page will be updated with the latest COVID-19 information. Please note that the information on this page is subject to change depending on current lockdown regulations.

Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, has in June 2022 repealed some of South Africa’s remaining COVID-19 regulations: namely, sections 16A, 16B and 16C of the Regulations Relating to the Surveillance and the Control of Notifiable Medical Conditions under the National Health Act. We are now no longer required to wear masks or limit gatherings. Venue restrictions and checks for travellers coming into South Africa have now also been removed.


Campus communications


Adjusting to our new environment 16:50, 23 June 2022
VC Open Lecture and other updates 17:04, 13 April 2022
Feedback from UCT Council meeting of 12 March 2022 09:45, 18 March 2022
Chair of Council
March 2022 graduation celebration 16:45, 8 March 2022
Report on the meeting of UCT Council of 21 February 2022 19:30, 21 February 2022
Chair of Council
COVID-19 management 2022 11:55, 14 February 2022
Return to campus arrangements 2022 11:15, 4 February 2022

UCT Community of Hope Vaccination Centre

On Wednesday, 20 July, staff from the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Faculty of Health Sciences came together with representatives from the Western Cape Government at the UCT Community of Hope Vaccination Centre at Forest Hill Residence to acknowledge the centre’s significance in the fight against COVID-19 and to thank its staff for their contributions. The centre opened on 1 September 2021 with the aim of providing quality vaccination services to UCT staff, students and the nearby communities, as well as to create an opportunity for medical students from the Faculty of Health Sciences to gain practical public health skills. The vaccination centre ceased operations on Friday, 29 July 2022.

With the closure of the UCT Community of Hope Vaccination Centre, if you still require access to a COVID-19 vaccination site please visit the CovidComms SA website to find an alternative.


“After almost a year of operation, the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Community of Hope Vaccination Centre, located at the Forest Hill residence complex in Mowbray, will close on Friday, 29 July 2022. I am extremely grateful and proud of all staff, students and everyone involved in this important project.”
– Vice-Chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng

With the closure of the UCT Community of Hope Vaccination Centre, if you still require access to a COVID-19 vaccination site please visit the CovidComms SA website to find an alternative.

Thank You UCT Community

Frequently asked questions


Global Citizen Asks: Are COVID-19 Vaccines Safe & Effective?

UCT’s Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) collaborated with Global Citizen, speaking to trusted experts to dispel vaccine misinformation.

If you have further questions about the COVID-19 vaccine check out the FAQ produced by the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation (DTHF). The DTHF has developed a dedicated chat function where you can ask your vaccine-related questions on the bottom right hand corner of the website.

IDM YouTube channel | IDM website


“As a contact university, we look forward to readjusting our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in 2023 as the COVID-19 regulations have been repealed.”
– Prof Harsha Kathard, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning

We are continuing to monitor the situation and we will be updating the UCT community regularly – as and when there are further updates. If you are concerned or need more information, students can contact the Student Wellness Service on 021 650 5620 or 021 650 1271 (after hours), while staff can contact 021 650 5685.