Background: An understanding of how public health research output from India is changing in relation to the disease burden and public health priorities is required in order to inform relevant research development. We therefore studied the trends in the public health research output from India during 2001-2008 that was readily available in the public domain.
Methods: The scope and type of the published research from India in 2007 that was included in the PubMed database was assessed and compared with a previous similar assessment for 2002. Papers were classified based on the review of abstracts and original public health research papers were assessed in detail. Impact factors for the journals were used to compute quality-adjusted research output. The websites of governmental organizations, academic and research institutions and international organizations were searched in order to identify and review reports on original public health research produced in India from 2001 to 2008. The reports were classified based on the topics covered and quality and their trends over time were assessed.
Results: The number of original health research papers from India in PubMed doubled from 4494 in 2002 to 9066 in 2007. This included a 3.1-fold increase in public health research papers, but these comprised only 5% of the total papers in 2007. Within public health, the increase was lowest for the health system and policy category. Several major causes of disease burden in India continued to be underrepresented in the quality-adjusted public health research output in 2007. The number of papers evaluating population health interventions increased from 2002 to 2007, but there were none on the leading non-communicable causes of disease burden or on road traffic injuries. The number of identified original public health research reports increased by 64.7% from 204 in 2001-2004 to 336 in 2005-2008. The proportion of reports on reproductive and child health was very high but decreased slightly from 38.7% of the total in 2001-2004 to 31.5% in 2005-2008 (P = 0.09); those on the leading chronic non-communicable conditions and injuries increased from 6.4% to 13.4% (P = 0.01) but this was still much lower than their contribution to the disease burden. Health system/policy issues were the topic in 27.4% reports but health information issues were covered in a miniscule 0.6% reports. The proportion of reports that were evaluations increased slightly from 26% in 2001-2004 to 31.5% in 2005-2008, with this proportion being higher among the reports commissioned by international organizations (P < 0.001). The proportion of reports commissioned by Indian governmental organizations alone, or in collaboration with international organizations, doubled from 2001-2004 to 2005-2008 (P < 0.001). Only 25% of the total 540 reports had a quality score of adequate or better. The quality of reports produced by collaborations between Indian and international organizations was higher than those produced by Indian or international organizations alone (P < 0.001).
Conclusion: This is the first analysis from India that includes research reports in addition to published papers. It provides the most up-to-date understanding of public health research output from India. The increase in available public health research output and the increase in commissioning of this research by Indian governmental organizations are encouraging. However, the distribution of research topics and the quality of research reports continue to be unsatisfactory. It is necessary for health policy to address these continuing deficits in public health research in order to reduce the very large disease burden in India.