Official figures for total publications per million inhabitants for 2008 and 2014 from the UNESCO Science Report for 2030 , revealed a global growth by 15%; 32% for lower middle-income countries, and 33% for sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa. In comparison, Côte d’Ivoire, for the same period, showed a striking 55% of growth based on our own data. The previous UNESCO Science Report 2010  did not report on the publications per population size, presenting growth based on total publications between 2002 and 2008, and an income-based classification of countries had not been introduced by the time the report was established. However, based on population data from the World Bank, population stratified growth between 2002 and 2014 can be extrapolated as 51% globally and as 107% for sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa. The data we extracted for Côte d’Ivoire for the same period suggest again above-global and regional average growth by 122%, despite multiple periods of turmoil. However, it has to be pointed out that the methodology from the UNESCO report may vary from ours in terms of databases used and documents included. Indeed, looking at the scientific publications by country annex of the UNESCO report, the average numbers for Côte d’Ivoire seem to be slightly higher than ours. Growth of the UNESCO assessment of Côte d’Ivoire was therefore ‘only’ 44% between 2002 and 2014, which is based on a notably higher number of publications retrieved by UNESCO in 2002 compared with our analysis (111 versus 67).
Comparing research productivity in Côte d’Ivoire with other African countries is equally challenging owing to the scarcity of studies available and the inconsistency of study designs with respect to performance indicators, databases searched, article types included, time periods surveyed, and scientific domains assessed [2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9]. Using article quantity normalized to GDP and population offers, thus far, the best comparative base as information on %GDP spent on R&D and institutional funding details are difficult to obtain, as experienced in the current analysis and work pursued before. An assessment of the Maghreb zone, including Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia, for instance, retrieving all biomedical publications from PubMed during the period 2001–2006 placed Tunisia at the top end of performance with 20.4 publications per million population and 7.2 publications per 1 billion USD GDP per year. For Libya, approximately 10 times less (2.4) publications per million population and 20 times less (0.4) publications per 1 billion USD GDP per year were reported . The Tier assessment of biomedical PubMed publications across Africa conducted for 1996 to 2005 found South Africa and The Gambia at the top end for publications normalized to population (median between 20 and 30), while Cameroon, Togo, Malawi, Nigeria, and Guinea ranked at the bottom end (median between 0 and 5) per million population per year for the period 1996–2005. Normalized to total GDP, The Gambia was positioned again at the top (median between 60 and 80 publications per 1 billion USD per year), while South Africa, Mali, and Benin were found among the poorest performing (median between 0 and 5) . Averaged Côte d’Ivoire figures for 2001–2005 are 4.7 publications per million population and 5.7 publications per 1 billion USD per year, which positions the country somewhere in between the best and the worst performing nations across the Maghreb zone and sub-Saharan Africa. However, in contrast to those two multi-country assessments based on research articles extracted from PubMed, our design for an in-depth analysis of research productivity of Côte d’Ivoire included articles from the Web of Science Core Collection, in addition to PubMed, which accounted for 1/6th to 1/3rd of the total publications retrieved per year. Hence, the overall quantity of publications in the current study is expected to be relatively higher.
Evolution of publishing activities in Côte d’Ivoire
Of note, a direct comparison was possible along the timeline of research productivity for Côte d’Ivoire. Here, somewhat of a contradiction was observed when looking at the stratification to population size versus stratification to GDP. Both the publication quantity and the total product increased from 2000 to 2016 for the same population size. While the total product also increased when stratifying to GDP, the publication quantity did not show such a timeline-dependent increase per GDP. Since the total product is a measure for both quantity and quality, one possible conclusion is that resources invested in R&D have impacted on quality rather than quantity and that the increase of the total product along the time-period assessed is driven by the quality indicator (IF) mainly. Unfortunately, there are no detailed %GDP data for R&D expenditure openly available for Côte d’Ivoire, which challenges a more comprehensive interpretation of this phenomenon. However, the higher weight of the quality component is further underlined by the unchanged ratio of publications with IF versus total publications that accompanies the increase of the average annual IF and the proportion of English publications along the timeline assessed. It is not the quantity of journals with IF chosen that seems to have changed, but the average IF of those journals seems to have increased, which may suggest that good publishing practices (that include publishing in indexed journals) are implemented by an ever more quality-conscious and internationally connected scientific community but may not be reaching the bulk of researchers in Côte d’Ivoire yet.
The relative increase in English publications also coincided with a drop in the proportion of articles published by Ivorian researchers in lead author positions (first and/or last author) that became evident from 2011 onwards (Fig. 2). Considering the increasing scores of non-Ivorian affiliations along the timeline assessed on top of that (Fig. 4), we might be witnessing a certain loss of ownership of the research by Ivorian research institutions or simply a phase of adaptation and transition to a new publishing culture using the growing international and transnational networks and consortia available. Increasing international collaborations, involvement in larger, better funded, and hence, often more impactful research, multinational consortia, and other forms of enhanced international visibility are welcomed developments to the transition that seems to be going on in Côte d’Ivoire [22,23,24,25,26]. In addition, the increasing internationalization seems to directly impact on the quality of the journals chosen for publishing the research. Less than one third of all ‘Ivorian only’ publications were published in journals that possessed an IF in 2008, while 73% of mixed publications did so. For 2016 the respective percentages were 45% and 91%.
The research portfolio of Côte d’Ivoire showed a high consistency among the most popular scientific areas along the decades assessed. The classical tropics and subtropics disciplines infectious diseases, parasitology, tropical medicine, and to some extend immunology and pediatrics, were strongly represented in most years assessed. Changes in scientific foci observed, seem to have less to do with the sociopolitical environment and more with the global trends in science and R&D funding. The single-disciplinary mathematics, entomology, demography, dentistry, and urology gave way to more laboratory-based and multidisciplinary domains of research such as food science technology, science technology, and biochemistry and molecular biology by 2016 (Fig. 3). The strong downward trend in agricultural sciences between 2000 and 2016 is surprising, considering that the economy of Côte d’Ivoire has been, and continues to be, largely driven by agricultural development. However, since the rating is based on proportions rather than absolute numbers, there are a variety of explaining factors including the shift in science trends, an increasing multidisciplinary environment, and the fact that most agricultural research institutes in Côte d’Ivoire (e.g., Institute de Recherche pour le Development, West Africa Rice Development Association, and CIRAD) were closed during one or more periods of violence between 2000 and 2016 .
Resilience of the main Ivorian publishing institutions
Two universities, two university hospitals, and three research facilities (i.e., one center, one site, and one program) were identified as top publishing institutions during the period 2000–2016. Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny was found to be the top publisher in the majority of the 17 years assessed. Based in Abidjan, the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire, Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny represents by far the largest university in the country with 13 faculties and approximately 2000 academic staff and 60,000 students. The sheer size and research capacity of this university partly explains the consistent top scores. The second university found among the top publishers, Université Nangui Abrogoua, is also Abidjan-based and consists of four faculties, enrolling approximately 8400 students. Together with the three other main universities across the country (Université Alassane Ouattara in central Bouaké, Université Jean Lorougnon Guédé in central-west Daloa, and Université Péléforo Gon Coulibaly in northern Korhogo), they all experienced an almost 2-year closure due to spill-overs from the post-electoral violence from April 2011 to September 2012, leaving laboratories looted, infrastructure dysfunctional, and researchers and students without a base . While for Université Nangui Abrogoua a major drop in original publications was seen in 2013 (Fig. 4) recovering in subsequent years, the productivity of Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny dropped in 2014 and 2015 and recovered in 2016. The lag in effect suggests that the externally imposed restrictions to actively pursue research in the laboratory or the field coupled with reduced teaching and mentoring duties, might have been compensated with desk-based work. In this scenario, the writing up of publications offers a means to be productive as researcher given that any efforts to obtain funding for a project based or partially based in a fragile context will face additional challenges. The fact that Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny experienced a later drop compared with Université Nangui Abrogoua may be due to its larger research population generating a larger volume of data available per scientist during the closure.
The two public teaching hospitals (CHU Treichville and CHU Yopougon) were established in their current form in the mid-1970s and are associated with the medical faculty of the Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny. However, they are represented as autonomous institutions in most of the published work. CHU Treichville is often co-associated with the prolific HIV/AIDS Program PAC-CI and ANRS, which may have contributed to the high scoring. A similar trend applies to CHU Yopougon, though to a lesser extent. Particularly the pediatric services of CHU Yopougon are frequently associated with the work of the Program PAC-CI and ANRS. To our knowledge, unlike the universities, the teaching hospitals did not experience any significant periods of interrupted services during the post-electoral crisis.
The ANRS office in Abidjan was established in the early-1990s at the CHU Treichville by the French government to promote research on HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. The Program PAC-CI was launched in 1995, readily embedded in ANRS and consists of a team of approximately 100 staff. Despite the relatively small size of the local team, the Program PAC-CI has established itself as one of the top players in publishing original research articles across the country during the 17-year period assessed. Publications in very high IF journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine (IF in 2016: 72.4), and consistent presence in intermediate IF journals in the domain of HIV/AIDS (i.e., AIDS and the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes), strong ties with University Victor Segalen and INSERM in Bordeaux, France, coupled with a peak of investment in global HIV/AIDS research from 2000 up to 2010, are likely contributors to this success story. Intense lobbying by HIV/AIDS activists headed by Peter Piot, UNAIDS Director at the time, resulted in the inclusion of HIV/AIDS as one of the Millennium Development Goals, leading indeed to the access to a considerable, new funding stream . However, the Program PAC-CI publishing activities started declining after 2011, which may be again an indication of the enforced low-level of research activities that has taken place across the country as a consequence of the widespread post-electoral violence. An equally plausible reason for the drop in research productivity of the Program PAC-CI is the decrease of international funding for HIV/AIDS programs as consequence of the global financial crisis.
A very different scenario emerges for CSRS, which is a public–private research institution of similar size as the Program PAC-CI with approximately 170 researchers and 100 support staff. In contrast to the Program PAC-CI and its associated institutions that published less in 2016 than in 2015, the CSRS continuously increased its publication output along the whole period assessed, finishing as second-most prolific publishing institute in Côte d’Ivoire behind Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny in 2016. In our view, the infrastructure, a well-articulated strategic plan, established governance structure with administrative and scientific boards that meet once or twice a year, and strong international partnerships are the main explanatory factors for the resilience of CSRS . Indeed, resilience toward changing trends in funding is achieved by the diversification of its research portfolio based on eight main domains of research, including parasitic diseases, bio-conservation, nutrition, agriculture, and environmental sciences. A cross-cutting and transdisciplinary approach is generally implemented to work on a given scientific question that includes a strong social science component allowing for a wider understanding of the research setting. Resilience to geopolitical threats, on the other hand, is achieved by the low-key/low-visibility location of the main research station outside central Abidjan and multiple satellite laboratories across the country that offer attractive research bases and that have helped maintaining a minimum of active field- and laboratory-based research activity during the entire post-electoral crisis [17, 30].
At least for CSRS, we know for certain that a strong backing by some of its long-term international partner institutions, along with funding from the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI), have contributed to keeping up the research productivity during periods that were restrictive to conducting laboratory and field work [17, 30]. Moreover, the CSRS has benefited from competitively acquired international large-scale and smaller local Swiss funding schemes for education and research (i.e., NCCR North–South, AII, DELTAS, and PASRES). However, those two final points made might also hold true for the other main publishing institutions identified in this work.
The methodology of the current study aimed to capture national research productivity as measured by international indicators and standards. It should be emphasized that on local and regional level, the perception of research productivity may differ quite considerably owing to the research and academic structures prevailing among francophone and lusophone African countries. The Conseil Africain et Malgache pour l’Enseignement Supérieur (CAMES; African and Malagasy Council for Higher Education) that evaluate higher education and research systems dictates a different publishing policy compared with international standards. The most important deviations are the lack of significance accounted to the IF, focusing almost solely on the quantity of publications. The key authorship positions are also defined somewhat differently by CAMES; the first three author positions are the most important ones, as opposed to the first and last author as for international publishing. Both differences pose a conflict to institutions and individual scientists who want to gain international recognition.