UK and South Africa are chasing the US in run for top producer of HIV/AIDS related research, new Elsevier report finds

Based on the global field-weighted citation impact, this new report by Elsevier charts global trends in AIDS and HIV research. The University of Cape Town is the most influential research institution in the field underlining the high priority that HIV/AIDS research has in countries that are strongly affected by the disease

Amsterdam, November 26, 2019

South Africa is among the top producers of HIV/AIDS related research coming third after the US and the UK, in terms of the publication volume, a new report released today by global information analytics business Elsevier. Ahead of 2019’s World AIDS Day (#WAD2019), Elsevier analyzed research in the field of HIV and AIDS published since the discovery of the virus in the 1980s.

The report offers a comprehensive overview of the research landscape and recent trends in the field.

South Africa’s research output in the field of HIV/AIDS accounts for a total of 6,823 publications between 2014 and 2018. This leading position may reflect the high priority HIV/AIDS research has taken in countries where incidence rate is high and suggests strong support for research overall, through infrastructure, funding and research workforce. Globally, an estimated 38 million people are infected with HIV. The vast majority of those infected – over 25 million people – live in Africa1. The report further underlines that the relative activity in HIV/AIDS research is highest in four countries in Sub-Saharan Africa including: South Africa; Uganda; Kenya; and Nigeria.

Looking at the overall research conducted on HIV/AIDS, the report finds that the US is the leading producer of HIV/AIDS related research with 35,493 publications between 2014 and 2018. This surpasses the second highest contributor, the United Kingdom (7,879 publications), by over 27,000 publications.

“This report shows the tight relationship between burden of disease and research publishing,” explains Linda-Gail Bekker, Professor of Medicine at the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, University of Cape Town, South Africa, and the immediate past President of the International AIDS Society. “South Africa is a relatively small country but has carried a massive HIV burden and punched well above its weight in research publishing.

“It also shows that, like the epidemic, the response has been global with significant north-south collaboration. The collaborative role that institutions, entities and governments in the North have played is reflected in the large number of collaborative papers from UCT and The University of Witwatersrand.”

The report also charts top research institutions in the area of HIV/AIDS providing data on both their research output, field-weighted citation impact (FWCI) and the share of international collaborations. Correlating with top research countries, institutions with the highest research output are predominately located in the US (seven out of ten) and South Africa (two out of ten). However, looking at the field-weighted citation impact, the South Africa’s Cape Town University tops the global list producing highly influential research in the field with an FWCI of 3.8 and 1,873 publications between 2014 and 2018.

International collaboration is a main feature of research coming from the top institutions: of the top ten institutions that produce the most research on HIV/AIDS, more than half of the output involves international collaboration. The highest percentage of collaboration can be seen in research by University of Cape Town and University of the Witwatersrand, with approximately 74 percent involving collaborators overseas. Academic-corporate collaborations are also prominent among the top institutions, with one in five publications from the US National Institutes of Health, and one in ten publications from Harvard produced this way.

Other findings highlighted in the report:

  • The report finds that research output for HIV/AIDS has tracked with the incidence rate for the virus. Research related to HIV/AIDS increased as a percentage of all research as the incidence rate increased from 1990-1995 and later decreased as the global incidence rate declined from 2000-2018. This data points to the relative success of AIDS research in driving a decline in incidence rate.
  • The study also looks at research trends in the field of HIV/AIDS research and reveals that researching, and elucidating HIV and host protein targets through the published scientific literature over the past 20 years has been an invaluable source of knowledge in understanding disease and developing highly successful therapeutics. Moreover, an increasing body of published data is looking at a patient’s own intrinsic immune defense system to reduce viral replication.
  • Globally, 3.4 percent (2,713) of all HIV research publications in 2014-2018 were the result of collaboration between academic and corporate institutions. The top three corporate institutions involved in this research are Leidos (290 publications); Gilead Sciences (178 publications); and GlaxoSmithKline (153 publications).

Data in the report comes from Elsevier’s SciVal and Scopus database. The analysis covers research published between 2014 and 2018. Scopus is a source-neutral abstract and citation database curated by independent subject matter experts. It places powerful discovery and analytics tools in the hands of researchers, librarians, institutional research managers and funders. SciVal is an analytics solution that provides comprehensive access to the research performance of over 14,000 research institutions and their associated researchers from 230 nations worldwide. SciVal enables visualizations of research performance outputs and trends; SciVal runs on Scopus data.


Notes for editors
1 Retrieved from:

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About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps scientists and clinicians to find new answers, reshape human knowledge, and tackle the most urgent human crises. For 140 years, we have partnered with the research world to curate and verify scientific knowledge. Today, we’re committed to bringing that rigor to a new generation of platforms. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, 39,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers.

Media contact
Sacha Boucherie, Global Communications