Geneva Health Forum Archive

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Research Ethics in Africa: Needs and Opportunities

Author(s): Peter M. Ndumbe1
Affiliation(s): 1Microbiology, Haematology and Infectious Diseases, Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Yaounde, Cameroon
Key issues:

It is a truism that health policy as well as the teaching and practice of the health sciences ought to be guided by evidence. The collection and validation of this evidence has to depend on methodologically and ethically acceptable standards. Whilst there is some agreement that issues related to methodology have been fairly well addressed in low-income countries such as Cameroon, the same is not true for ethical issues.

Meeting challenges:

Training institutions for the health sciences such as the Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in Yaounde have to take the leadership in ensuring that research is conducted in an ethical manner. Appropriate training has to be provided both to the teachers and to the students in this area. Since its creation in 1969, the Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences has forged the research culture into its graduates. All graduates have to provide a thesis, dissertation, or research report as part of the requirements for qualifying. Within the last fifteen years, the faculty has grappled with the issue of conducting research in an ethically sound manner. This has resulted in the installation of an Ethical Committee at the Faculty. In order to ensure its recognition and use, training had to be provided first for the teachers, and later for the students. Continuing education sessions are required for the teachers whilst every new crop of students is immersed into the ethical culture of conducting research. The major concerns encountered are the total neglect of the research culture in daily decision making and the assumption that health provision services are inherently good and cannot be challenged. Issues related to the financing of research are commonly found to be poorly understood by researchers. Other challenges related to the functioning of the Committee (administrative, displeasure with results, use of other facilities, financial, follow-up of studies) are dealt with in innovative manners and the Ethical Committee is becoming well known.

Conclusion (max 400 words):

In conclusion, although wrought with difficulties in the beginning, training institutions should provide leadership in ensuring that research is conducted in an ethical manner in low-income settings. This not only safeguards the dignity and human rights of participants, but also ensures that medical practice becomes accountable to its users.

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