•UNILAG coordinates Nigerian network in world’s largest scientific collaboration involving over 140,000 patients in 116 countries
A study led by the Universities of Birmingham and Edinburgh experts, in conjunction with researchers from the University of Lagos and other leading universities in Nigeria, has been awarded the Guinness World Records title for the world’s largest scientific collaboration – involving over 140,000 patients in 116 countries.
The Universities of Birmingham and Edinburgh now hold the record for ‘Most authors on a single peer-reviewed academic paper’ after 15,025 scientists around the globe including researchers from the University of Lagos, contributed to major research into the impact of COVID-19 on surgical patients.
Funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the researchers concluded that patients waiting for elective surgery should be treated as a vulnerable group and access COVID-19 vaccines ahead of the general population – potentially helping to avoid thousands of post-operative deaths linked to the virus. This could be particularly important for Low- and Middle-income Countries (LMICs) such as Nigeria, where access to vaccination remains limited and mitigation measures like nasal swab screening and COVID-free surgical pathways to reduce the risk of virus-related complications are not available for many patients. Overall, the scientists, which included researchers from the University of Lagos coordinated by Hub Director (NIHR Lagos Hub), Prof. Adesoji Ademuyiwa, and other researchers from Lagos State University, University of Ibadan, University of Ilorin, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, University of Abuja, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, University of Port Harcourt, Aminu Kano University, and others, estimated that global prioritisation of pre-operative vaccination for elective patients could prevent an additional 58,687 COVID-19-related deaths in one year.
The COVIDSurg Collaborative international team of researchers published its findings in BJS, Europe’s leading surgical journal, after studying data from 1,667 hospitals in countries including Australia, Brazil, China, India, Nigeria, United Arab Emirate (UAE), UK and United States of America (USA).
The NIHR Global Surgery Unit Nigeria Lead, Prof. Adesoji Ademuyiwa of the University of Lagos, said: “The age of building silos is over. We must break down the silos and build bridges. Collaboration in medical research is key and will help achieve within a short time what it will take years to achieve if one goes alone. This award goes to support the proverb that says, ‘if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go with others’. This collaboration has achieved a tremendous impact by giving guidance to policy makers in care of surgical patients.”
Deputy Lead for the Nigerian Hub and Hospital lead for Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife, Prof. Adewale Adisa, said: “The success of the collaborative has been a great encouragement to clinical researchers in Nigeria as in many LMICs.”
He believes that the Collaborative enjoyed such a large buy-into among partners in LMICs because they are involved in all the stages of the research from design to write-up, unlike the previous models where most partners only contribute data to such studies.
Principal Investigator at Lagos State University, Dr. Omolara Williams, describes the COVIDSurg Collaborative award has a delightful surprise that has reinforced the case for strong collaborations, and recognised the hard work of all the researchers from across the globe. She said: “The spread and diversity of the source of data contribution makes the results applicable by policy makers to different contexts and health systems in addressing the impact of Covid-19 on surgical care. Strong collaborations are essential in today’s world to harness the strength of all stakeholders. Therefore, we must encourage mutually beneficial collaborations to build capacity in medical research, achieve results faster, address disparities and bridge gaps in health outcomes.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, five billion people lacked access to surgical care and 143 million more operations per year were required globally. There was already a major global inequity in access to safe and affordable surgery across low and middle-income countries, with an urgent need to expand capacity. The pandemic has acutely worsened that situation.
Launched in March 2020, the COVIDSurg Collaborative has provided data needed to support changes to surgical delivery in the fastest time frame ever seen by a surgical research group. Research from this huge study group has also explored the timing of surgery after COVID infection, preoperative isolation, and risks of blood clots, all published in the field-leading journal Anaesthesia.
Co-author, Mr. James Glasbey, also a surgical trainee from the University of Birmingham, commented: “Over 15,000 surgeons and anaesthetists from across 116 countries came together to contribute to this study making it the largest ever scientific collaboration, surpassing even ground-breaking research from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. Every day we hear in the news that waiting lists are growing, and patients are unable to access the surgery that they need. This situation sadly is deteriorating in countries all over the world. Policy makers can use the data from this scientific collaboration to safely restart elective surgery.”
During the first wave of the pandemic, up to 70 per cent of elective surgeries were postponed, resulting in an estimated 28 million procedures being delayed or cancelled. Whilst surgery volumes have started to recover in many countries, ongoing disruption is likely to continue throughout 2021, particularly in the event of countries experiencing further waves of COVID-19. Vaccination is also likely to decrease post-operative pulmonary complications – reducing intensive care use and overall healthcare costs.