The Risk of Less Epidemic Research After Outbreaks
August 19, 2020
The Jerusalem Post — A long term study from BGU on epidemic outbreaks found that while research on infectious coronavirus disease surges after an outbreak, it drops substantially upon virus containment, which ultimately prevents a full understanding of coronavirus management and prevention.
In the study published in GigaScience, researchers developed and analyzed a dataset of 35 million papers over 20 years revealing that comparatively limited research has been conducted on emerging infectious diseases.
“The COVID-19 outbreak has revealed how little we know about emerging coronaviruses,” said Dr. Michael Fire, a lecturer in the BGU Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering (SISE) and the founder of the Data Science for Social Good Lab.
“There has been no sustained research into these types of infections, merely peaks following specific outbreaks. That pattern has left us woefully unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic. If we want to be ready for the next pandemic, we must maintain a steady pace of research, even after the current pandemic subsides. The path to understanding is a marathon, not a sprint,” he added.
Dr. Fire, together with Ph.D. student Dima Kagan and Prof. Jacob Moran-Gilad of the Department of Health Systems Management at BGU’s School of Public Health constructed and analyzed the novel dataset of research articles on emerging diseases.
The researchers also found that there have been few international collaborations to study emerging infectious diseases. Seventy-three percent of coronavirus studies were centered in only six countries, with the majority of research emanating from the U.S. and China.
Moreover, coronavirus was found to be studied considerably less than blood-borne viruses like Hepatitis B or C and HIV, and its research community has less prolific researchers than the other investigated diseases.
This translates to both fewer collaborations on coronavirus studies and short-lived investments and funding, slowing down preventative measures such as strategies and drug and vaccine development.
“We believe the lessons learned from the scientometrics of previous epidemics argue that regardless of the outcome of COVID-19, efforts to sustain research in this field should be made,” says Dr. Fire.