Science 1 August 1997: Vol. 277. no. 5326, p. 643
Indian biomedical scientists are focusing on the diseases of the affluent at the expense of their own country’s health problems, suggests a study published in the 25 June issue of an Indian journal, Current Science
Low priority. Patients at a rural clinic.
Subbiah Arunachalam, an information scientist at the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Madras (now called Chennai), reports that, according to a review of Medline, the 10 fields in which the most papers were published between 1987 to 1994 did not include tropical medicine–infectious diseases such as malaria–or respiratory diseases. And despite India’s more than 12 million blind people, “hardly any” research is done in ophthalmology. The study showed that Indian authors are most prolific in the areas of general medicine, pediatrics, and pharmacology. In research targeted to specific diseases, cancer came first with 821 papers. There were 663 papers on cardiovascular diseases, compared with only 432 in tropical medicine.
In addition to having “lopsided” priorities, Arunachalam says, Indian biomedical research suffers from general low quality. Nearly three-fourths of some 20,000 articles by Indian authors over the 7-year period appeared in journals ranked as very “low impact” by the Institute of Scientific Information in Philadelphia, he reports. Only 58 papers appeared in high-impact journals like The Lancet or Science.
Many Indians believe the analysis is sadly on target. It reflects the fact that Indian medical research has “remained aloof from the people and continues to progress only by infusion of foreign know-how,” says cardiac surgeon Martanda Varma Sankaran Valiathan of the Manipal Academy of Higher Education. Gowdagere Vedanti Satyavati, director of the Indian Council for Medical Research, counters that “ICMR’s thrust areas coincide with national health priorities” and that other indices, such as the Index Medicus, show far more publications by Indian scientists than does Medline.