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Table of Contents
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 109-119

Bibliometric analysis of coronavirus disease 2019 medical research production from Saudi Arabia

1 Evidence-Based Health Care and Knowledge Translation Research; Family and Community Medicine Department, College of Medicine, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
2 Medical Informatics and e-learning Unit, Medical Education Department, College of Medicine, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
3 Prince Sattam Chair for Epidemiology and Public Health Research, Department of Family and Community Medicine, College of Medicine, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
4 National Health Information Center, Saudi Health Council, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
5 Health Sciences Librarian, Wegner Health Sciences Library, University of South Dakota, Sioux Falls, USA

Date of Submission01-Aug-2021
Date of Decision17-Jan-2022
Date of Acceptance24-Feb-2022
Date of Web Publication28-Apr-2022

Correspondence Address:
Amr A Jamal
Evidence-Based Health Care and Knowledge Translation Research Chair, King Saud University, Riyadh; Department of Family and Community Medicine, College of Medicine, King Saud University, Riyadh; 3145 College of Medicine, King Saud University, (Internal Mail 34), Riyadh 12372
Saudi Arabia
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jnsm.jnsm_91_21

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In response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and as an attempt to fill the knowledge gap related to this topic, extensive research in this area has been published. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as one of the countries affected by the pandemic, has contributed to the growing body of scientific literature related to COVID-19. To measure research contribution produced by Saudi Arabian affiliated researchers, we conducted a bibliometric analysis of COVID-19 research across two databases: the Web of Science and Scopus. Analysis was conducted on February 2, 2021 and included all relevant COVID-19-related publications (n = 1510). The majority of publications were research articles with the average number of citations per publication of 4.8, an authorship collaboration dimension of 5.49 authors per publication, collaboration index of 6.0, and 5.6 mean total citations per year. Further analysis showed that 89.5% of publications were multi-authored reflecting the importance of substantial efforts made toward research collaboration.

Keywords: Bibliometric analysis, coronavirus disease 2019, data visualization, Saudi Arabia

How to cite this article:
Jamal AA, BinKheder S, Aldekhyyel RN, Almulhem J, Tharkar S, Batis AA, Hneiny L. Bibliometric analysis of coronavirus disease 2019 medical research production from Saudi Arabia. J Nat Sci Med 2022;5:109-19

How to cite this URL:
Jamal AA, BinKheder S, Aldekhyyel RN, Almulhem J, Tharkar S, Batis AA, Hneiny L. Bibliometric analysis of coronavirus disease 2019 medical research production from Saudi Arabia. J Nat Sci Med [serial online] 2022 [cited 2022 Sep 25];5:109-19. Available from: https://www.jnsmonline.org/text.asp?2022/5/2/109/344215

  Introduction Top

The novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19),[1] which first emerged in Wuhan City, China in late December 2019, has become a serious public health concern.[2] The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a public health emergency, on January 30th, 2020,[3] then on March 11, 2020, the WHO announced COVID-19 as pandemic disease.[4] The high pathogenicity and mortality rate of COVID-19 has caused fear, anxiety, and mental pressure among the public.[5] In response, a serious of mitigation measures were implemented by many governments in an effort to control the transmission and spread of the disease[6],[7] The research community worldwide have also worked persistently to understand the mechanisms of transmission and to discover effective treatments and interventions, leading to a surge of research publications.[8] Within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the first reported COVID-19 case was on March 2, 2019. The health-care sector was faced with unprecedented circumstances leading to several governmental actions within the country, which included country lockdowns to protect the public,[9] the development of digital platforms to ensure continuity of services,[10] and announcements of national-wide research grants to support the research community.[11],[12],[13]

Bibliometric analysis studies are widely used to assess scholarly activity, including researcher articles, journals, countries/regions of many scientific fields, and topics.[14] Bibliometrics are utilized to measure and evaluate the research impact of articles by measuring citation counts, which usually determine publication trends and the impact of an article. These studies have been widely used to generate diverse insights into specific issues within the medical field.[15],[16] With the COVID-19 pandemic being an ongoing public concern and a research focus for many scientists, it is no surprise that such a concern warrants bibliometric studies related to COVID-19 research publications. Interesting research by Viedma et al. described a 50-year trend related to strains and types of coronavirus publications.[17] More recent bibliometric studies were published describing the specific COVID-19 research trends within a specific country,[18],[19],[20] however a focus on research trends and the impact of Saudi publications is currently not available. Therefore, our aim is to measure the research contribution produced by Saudi Arabian affiliated researchers covering the COVID-19 pandemic topics and to assess the characteristics of these publications, which include, journals, type of publications, research institutions, authorship, and citation habits.

  Materials and Methods Top

Search strategy

To analyze publication patterns and scientific production related to the COVID-19 pandemic produced by Saudi affiliated researchers, we performed a thorough search strategy across two of the largest and authoritative bibliographic citation databases: Web of Science (WOS) and Scopus. Scopus and WOS are reliable and prominent bibliographic databases that provide several bibliometric metadata, including citation counts, h-indexing along with thorough bibliographic citations, titles, authors' names, author address(es), affiliation(s), keywords, journal title, and DOI.

A comprehensive search strategy combining the concepts of COVID-19 and affiliations from KSA was done to increase the sensitivity of records retrieval [Appendix 1]. For instance, some keywords of the concept of “COVID-19” were as follows “2019 novel coronavirus,” “2019 novel coronavirus,” “Sars2,” and “2019ncov.” As for the second concept that identifies publications, which include researchers with Saudi affiliations, examples of search terms include KSA, Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, Dammam, Jeddah, Qassim, Khobar and so on. Search Fields in which the keywords of the first concept were searched for include title, abstract, keywords set by the authors and topic, title, abstracts, and author keywords in Scopus and WOS consecutively. The records were limited to the years 2019 through 2021. Both search queries were performed on February 2, 2021. The number of retrieved records was 2224 records for WOS and 1748 records for Scopus. All records were exported into BibTeX format for manual screening and bibliometric analysis.

Studies, which described any topic related to COVID-19, published in any language, and with any author affiliated to Saudi Arabia were included in this study. We excluded publications that did not report original data such as letters to the editor, data papers, news items, or editorials.

Screening and selection

To prepare for screening the publications' titles and abstracts, we started by merging the BibTeX files and removing duplicates using “Bibliometrix,”[21] an R package for performing comprehensive science mapping analysis. The total number of records combined from the two databases was 3972. A total of 1262 duplicate records were removed, resulting in a final set of 2710 records. Records were converted into MS Excel to conduct the manual screening review of titles and abstracts. To reduce bias, the records were divided into three groups with each group consisting of two reviewers from the research team (G1: R.A and S.B, G2: J.A and A.B, and G3:A.J and S.T). Each reviewer independently reviewed their assigned set of records, then each group compared their records for agreement and discussed any differences in a consensus meeting. When conflicts existed, a third reviewer from another group was assigned to discuss and resolve any conflicts. The final set of records included in the analysis was 1510 records [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Screening and selection process

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Data analysis and visualization

Bibliometric analysis and visualization were performed using “Bibliometrix” R package.[21] For all included publications, we extracted and manually reviewed the institution names to normalize the data. We then conducted the analysis to report on several publication characteristics, such as journals, type of publications, research institutions, authorship, and citation habits. Three Field Plot for the top 25 countries, keywords, and affiliations and co-occurrence network analysis was also performed.

  Results Top

A total of 1510 publications; 1300 published in 2020 and 210 published in 2021, written by 8290 authors were published in seven types of publications. The majority of the publications were articles (n = 1151) and reviews (322). For these publications, the average citations per publication were 4.8, the average authors per publication were 5.49, and the annual percentage growth rate was 83.85.

The publications consisted of 6826 Keywords Plus (ID) and 3,498 Author's Keywords (DE). There were 8290 authors, with the majority of publications multi-authored (8153). An overview of the publications included in our study is presented in [Table 1].
Table 1: Overview of scientific publications on COVID-19 research (January 2019-February 2021)

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  Top Journals Top

[Table 2] presents the most relevant sources of COVID-19-related publications. Both Cureus and the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health were the top number one journals (n = 34).
Table 2: Top 10 sources (journals) with publications

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  Top Research Institutions Top

[Figure 2] shows the top authors' affiliations ranked by the number of publications. The research institutions are divided into two groups, which include university institutions and hospital institutions. The top university institution publishing COVID-19-related studies was King Saud University, followed by King Abdulaziz University. The top hospital institution was the Ministry of National Guard Health Affairs.
Figure 2: Top authors' affiliations ranked by number of publications

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The Collaboration network of authors' affiliations is shown in [Figure 3]. The network showed four clusters, and the top affiliations based on PageRank scores were Ministry of National Guard Health Affairs (cluster 1, PageRank = 0.059), King Saud University (cluster 2, PageRank = 0.080), Prince Sultan University (cluster 3, PageRank = 0.0091), and King Faisal Specialist and Research Center (cluster 4, PageRank = 0.038).
Figure 3: Collaboration network of authors' affiliations

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  Researchers' Productivity Top

[Table 3] shows the top 20 researchers with a high number of publications on COVID-19 during the study period. Khan M has the highest number of publications with 42 publications. When calculating the publications fractionalized scores, Boretti A scored the highest with 8.83.
Table 3: Most productive authors

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  Corresponding Author's Geographical Distribution Top

Corresponding author's geographical distribution is presented in [Table 4]. There were 837 publications with corresponding authors from Saudi Arabia (Single Country Publications [SCP] = 783), followed by India and Egypt, with 84 publications (SCP = 74), and 78 publications (SCP = 71), respectively. [Figure 4] shows the publication collaboration between authors from Saudi Arabia and authors from other countries (n = 56) on topics related to COVID-19. Saudi Arabia and Egypt were the top collaborating countries with 35 collaborations, followed by Saudi Arabia and India with 19 collaborations.
Figure 4: Country collaboration map on Saudi's COVID-19 publications worldwide

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Table 4: Corresponding author's countries

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  Citation Habits Top

The top 20 most cited publications are presented in [Table 5]. The top-cited publication was authored by Rodriguez-Morales's, titled as “Clinical, laboratory, and imaging features of COVID-19: A systematic review and meta-analysis.”[22] The publication was published in Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease Journal with 579 citations during the time of our study.
Table 5: Top 20 most cited publications

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  Citations Per Country Top

[Table 6] presents total citations per country. Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Colombia, and China had more than 500 citations. Saudi Arabia was at the top of the list with 2222 citations followed by the United Kingdom with 969 citations. With regard to average article citations among the top 20 countries, Colombia had the highest number of average article citations with 72 followed by South Africa with 58.5.
Table 6: Top 20 countries with highest citations

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  Frequent Keywords Top

[Table 7] provides the 20 most relevant keywords of Author Keywords and Keywords-Plus. The number of Author Keywords showed that the most relevant keywords were COVID-19 (n = 907), Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-COV-2) (n = 285), coronavirus (n = 188), pandemic (n = 133), and Saudi Arabia (n = 107). Other author keywords that were highlighted with more than 20 publications, were anxiety (n = 37), COVID-19 (n = 24), and hydroxychloroquine (n = 21). The analysis of Keywords-Plus indicated that the four most frequently used Keywords-Plus were human (n = 640), coronavirus disease 2019 (n = 521), pandemic (n = 496), and betacoronavirus (n = 485).
Table 7: Most frequent keywords

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[Figure 5] (networks a and b) illustrates the keyword co-occurrence networks. Three clusters were identified from Keywords-Plus co-occurrence network (network a), which included top keywords based on PageRank scores: article (Cluster 1, PageRank = 0.039), pandemic (Cluster 2, PageRank = 0.047), and human (Cluster 3, PageRank = 0.059). The Author Keywords co-occurrence network identified six clusters (network B), which included top keywords based on PageRank scores: anxiety (Cluster 1, PageRank = 0.027), Saudi Arabia (Cluster 2, PageRank = 0.055), mers-cov (Cluster 3, PageRank = 0.018), hydroxychloroquine (Cluster 4, PageRank = 0.012), COVID-19 (Cluster 5, PageRank = 0.252), mortality (Cluster 6, PageRank = 0.014).
Figure 5: Co-occurrence network. Network (a) shows the keywords-plus co-occurrence network and Network (b) shows the author keywords co-occurrence network

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A three-factor analysis [Figure 6] was conducted to visually illustrate the relationship among countries, keywords in publications, and authors' affiliations. There were five countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, USA, India, and Pakistan), which published COVID-19 literature mostly using five main keywords (COVID-19, SARS-COV-19, Saudi Arabia, pandemic, and coronavirus). These countries and keywords show a strong relationship with the three authors' affiliations (King Saud University, King Abdulaziz University, and Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University).
Figure 6: Three-factor analysis of the relationship among countries (left), keywords (middle), and authors' affiliations (right)

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  Discussion Top

Our bibliometric analysis study was conducted with an objective to highlight the scientific research contribution related to COVID-19 published from Saudi Arabia. Our comprehensive evaluation of published research on this specific topic offers insights into the available knowledge, trends, progress, and importance of the subject and may give directions for further research. The global scientific output affirms a pandemic of literature about the current pandemic generating an enormous volume of contents.[23] The present study is, however, the first bibliometric analysis from Saudi Arabia that extensively describes the COVID-19-related scientific output. The extent of the current analysis presents the various aspects of COVID-19 research publications including the document types, networking of collaborations, authors, institutions, and keywords. The majority of the publications, included in our review were research articles. Some of the principal findings include authorship and collaboration dimensions of 5.49 authors per document, collaboration index of 6.0, and 5.6 mean total citations per year. Further analysis showed that 89.5% of the publications were multi-authored reflecting on the importance of substantial efforts made toward collaboration. An early bibliometric analysis comparing English and Chinese coronavirus publications reported 7.4 authors per document for English literature while Chinese publications contained 4.4 authors per document. In comparison, our results exhibited a middle path between English and Chinese literature demonstrating a balance of intellectual reliance as well as collaboration to produce high-quality scientific output.

While India, Egypt, and Pakistan remained on the top of the collaboration network of corresponding authors, they primarily indicate the original source of research subjective to major contribution. However, the United Kingdom, Columbia, and China provided a significant share of the highest total citations. China being the source of the pandemic has the maximum number of publications and highest citations in the early period of the epidemic[24] for obvious reasons and large multi-centric collaborative studies by Rodriguez et al.,[22] AlHazzani et al.,[25] and Phua et al.[26] describing clinical features, guidelines on the management of critically-ill patients, and intensive care management of the COVID-19 disease have contributed to the major proportion of the total citations.

Furthermore, with reference to the most productive journals, it was surprising to find Computer Materials and Continua, and Journal of Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics appearing in the top-five list, in addition to the medical and public health journals like Cureus, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and the Journal of Infection and Public Health. These findings reflect on the type of COVID-19 research that is being conducted in Saudi Arabia. In addition to the primary subject areas of the research like the clinical expression of the disease and medical/public health responses, and since the SARS-Co-V2 virus is naïve, the structural biology, viral genomics, dynamics of interactions and transmissions, computational science, and mathematical modeling of the disease were largely researched and published. These findings are suggestive and supportive of the innovative and multi-dimensional type of ongoing research in Saudi Arabia. A recent study analyzing the comprehensive review of the COVID-19 literature established public health response, clinical care practices, clinical characteristics, and epidemic modeling of the disease as the most common subject areas of COVID-19 research publications that are similar to and supportive of our findings.[27]

Furthermore, the keyword analysis provides additional in-depth insights on COVID-19 research. COVID-19 appeared to be the most common term in occurrence followed by SARS-Co-V2 and coronavirus in the keyword analysis. All three terms denote the names of the virus that commonly portray the agent. Several international studies support these findings.[17],[28],[29] Similarly, the five most common subject-wise keywords include anxiety/stress, knowledge, molecular docking, mortality, and machine learning. However, in contrast to our findings, international studies included epidemiology, infection and immunity, prevention and control, computed tomography, and antiviral drugs as common terms in the published COVID-19 literature.[24] The dramatic rise in COVID-19 publications has witnessed evolution according to the timeline starting from clinical characteristics and disease transmission during the nascent stage of the pandemic, to the new virus strains, vaccines, and trials as current hot topics. The continuous scientific data would enrich the knowledge and update the health sector and policymakers to regulate the prevention and control of the pandemic in the respective geographic regions.

Another point that deserves mention is the three-factor analysis showing the networking of institutions and countries. Research in the first 12 months of the pandemic has accomplished extensive collaborations and generated voluminous scientific productions. The top four premier institutions: King Saud University, King Abdul Aziz University, King Saud bin Abdul Aziz and Imam Abdur Rahman bin Faisal University, put together have a significant share of contributions mostly with countries such as Egypt, India, and the United States of America and Pakistan. These results are fairly consistent with some international studies which featured US and India in the top-five list besides China, Italy, and United Kingdom.[27],[28],[30]

Although this bibliometric analysis may sound synonymous to the whole-lens view of the coronavirus-related publications from Saudi Arabia, caution must be exercised while interpreting the findings. The study may contain certain limitations. First, the study included peer-reviewed publications from only two databases WOS and Scopus. This can be considered as one of the study limitations. Second, research output from preprint servers was not included, which may suggest a larger dimensional network of studies. Third, time-changing trends in coronavirus research cannot be captured considering the number and type of publications subjective to the constant evolution of research. Nevertheless, the study may still be considered as the primary groundwork of current bibliometric analysis from Saudi Arabia that defines the exquisite understanding of the status of the COVID-19 research. An exhaustive list of keywords was used to enable a comprehensive search strategy. This study may provide vital data about the kind of ongoing research to the scientific community, health professionals, public health sector, and policymakers. Further research involving the current trends in coronavirus research including major databases is highly recommended.

  Conclusions Top

Data from our bibliometric analysis symbolizes the expeditious response to the novel and deadly pandemic in terms of extensive and quality scientific research. Our study demonstrated a high level of collaboration network at national and international levels to produce progressive scientific research on the novel coronavirus. However, huge potential exists for future research. Some under-represented keywords reflected on the potential gaps in literature. Strains, vaccines, genomes, treatment are some disciplines that offer a substantial scope for future research.

Ethical clearance

Since the study involved bibliometric analysis of published literature, ethical consent and Institution Review Board's approval was not required.

Financial support and sponsorship

This work was supported by Vice-Deanship of Scientific Research Chairs, Deanship of Scientific Research, King Saud University.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

Appendix 1. Search Strategy

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  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6], [Table 7]


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