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Advancing Science for Global Health
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Tracking equity through authorship

September / October 2022 | Volume 21 Number 5

It matters—greatly—when a published study about sub-Saharan Africa credits scientists from the region as first or last authors. Authorship not only indicates leadership in conducting and sharing research, it also is an essential part of a researcher’s career. Good news: The number and percentage of Fogarty-funded publications about the region with sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)-affiliated first and last authors increased between the years 2008 and 2020, according to a new Fogarty-authored study published in BMJ Global Health.

Graphic showing the country and regional affiliations of authors on published papers supported by funding from the Fogarty International Center. Top line shows number of publications by authors with sub-Saharan Africa(SSA)-only affiliations (from 37 in 2008 to 175 in 2020). Second line shows authors with USA-only affiliations (from 58 in 2008 to 118 in 2020). Third line shows authors with both USA and SSA affiliations (from 16 in 2008 to 49 in 2020). Bottom line shows authors with neither USA nor SSA affiliations  (from 6 in 2008 to 15 in 2020).Image courtesy of Ezinne Akudinobi and Peter KilmarxThe percentage of Fogarty-funded publications about the region featuring SSA-affiliated first and/or last authors increased by over 15% between the years 2008 and 2020.

“While SSA makes up 12.5% of the global population, only 1.1% of the world’s researchers are based in the region,” wrote Fogarty co-authors Ezinne Akudinobi and Deputy Director Dr. Peter Kilmarx. In addition to the total number of publications from the region rising, the percentage of those authors with an SSA affiliation rose as well – from 45% to 63% for first authors and 28% to 46% for last.

Despite this progress, under half of the publications had SSA-affiliated last (senior) authors. And the relative citation ratio, a measure of scientific impact, was lower for papers with SSA-affiliated first and last authors compared with US-affiliated authors.

What’s needed is an investigation of impediments faced by SSA authors—language barriers, stringent authorship guidelines, and editorial bias, among them. “There is more at stake than publish or perish,” concluded Akudinobi and Kilmarx. “Ideally, African authorship will increasingly reflect Africans setting research agendas and writing about African issues for African audiences.”

The authors also encouraged other funders to conduct similar analyses to inform their initiatives and to promote equity.

More Information

Updated September 19, 2022

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