5 years ago

Analysing published global Ebola Virus Disease research using social network analysis

Christiane Hagel, Peter Tinnemann, Suzanne Edwards, Stephan Gauch, Felix Weidemann

The 2014/2015 West African Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak attracted global attention. Numerous opinions claimed that the global response was impaired, in part because, the EVD research was neglected, although quantitative or qualitative studies did not exist. Our objective was to analyse how the EVD research landscape evolved by exploring the existing research network and its communities before and during the outbreak in West Africa.

Methods/ Principal findings

Social network analysis (SNA) was used to analyse collaborations between institutions named by co-authors as affiliations in publications on EVD. Bibliometric data of publications on EVD between 1976 and 2015 was collected from Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science Core Collection (WoS). Freely available software was used for network analysis at a global-level and for 10-year periods. The networks are presented as undirected-weighted graphs. Rankings by degree and betweenness were calculated to identify central and powerful network positions; modularity function was used to identify research communities. Overall 4,587 publications were identified, of which 2,528 were original research articles. Those yielded 1,644 authors’ affiliated institutions and 9,907 connections for co-authorship network construction. The majority of institutions were from the USA, Canada and Europe. Collaborations with research partners on the African continent did exist, but less frequently. Around six highly connected organisations in the network were identified with powerful and broker positions. Network characteristics varied widely among the 10-year periods and evolved from 30 to 1,489 institutions and 60 to 9,176 connections respectively. Most influential actors are from public or governmental institutions whereas private sector actors, in particular the pharmaceutical industry, are largely absent.

Conclusion/ Significance

Research output on EVD has increased over time and surged during the 2014/2015 outbreak. The overall EVD research network is organised around a few key actors, signalling a concentration of expertise but leaving room for increased cooperation with other institutions especially from affected countries. Finding innovative ways to maintain support for these pivotal actors while steering the global EVD research network towards an agenda driven by agreed, prioritized needs and finding ways to better integrate currently peripheral and newer expertise may accelerate the translation of research into the development of necessary live saving products for EVD ahead of the next outbreak.

Publisher URL: http://journals.plos.org/plosntds/article

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0005747

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