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Capacity building for research ethics in Africa

Posted by plosmedicine on 31 Mar 2009 at 00:04 GMT

Author: Solomon (Solly) Benatar
Position: Professor of Medicine, Director Bioethics Centre
Institution: University of Cape Town
E-mail: solomon.benatar@uct.ac.za
Submitted Date: January 24, 2007
Published Date: January 24, 2007
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

The following additional information is provided about capacity building for research ethics in South Africa.

South Africa has two Fogarty funded programs: International Research Ethics Network for Southern Africa (IRENSA) based in Cape Town and the South African Research Ethics Initiative (SARETI) that allies the universities of Pretoria and Kwa-Zulu Natal. Each of these programs has a different focus and both are making highly valued contributions to capacity building in international research ethics in Southern Africa.

The goal of the IRENSA diploma program is to develop/nourish sustainable multidisciplinary expertise in international research ethics and bioethics in southern Africa. It prepares mid-career health and allied professionals from South Africa and other developing nations in Africa to assume positions of leadership in research ethics in their home institutions. This program is unique on the African continent in focusing exclusively on training mid-career professionals (who cannot take the time or leave to undertake full-time graduate work), in three intensive two week modules spread throughout one year, with assignments carried out at their home institutions. [1]

In four years IRENSA trained 49 mid-career professionals (17 men, 32 women, 20 white, 29 black) drawn from 20 institutions in South Africa and from 11 institutions in 8 other low-income African countries. Sixteen students serve as chairs, deputy chairs, or secretaries of RECs. Students reflect professional training in many disciplines, including science, medicine, nursing, social sciences, law, and pharmacology. Eighteen students hold doctoral degrees and represent a broad spectrum of health organizations. In addition our annual two day seminars in research ethics have reached over 400 attendees.

SARETI’s goal is to build capacity for ethical review of health research and strengthen Africa’s institutional training capacity necessary to achieve and sustain this aim. It offers a multi-disciplinary, modular Masters Degree program with funding for 9 trainees over 4 years, an advanced, non-degree program resulting in a Certificate with funding for 16 trainees, and a training program for 40 Ethics Review Committee members. [2] In 2003 SARETI co-hosted, with the HIV/AIDS Vaccines Ethics Group, a two-day training workshop for over 40 members of South African RECs, and in 2004 it offered a 3-week Ethics Review Committee Training Program sponsorship to 9 South African applicants.

A spin off of these educational programs has been formation of a network of Chairs of South African Human Health Ethics Committees. This has significantly improved liaison across the country, reduced the potential for shopping around by researchers, and has enhanced the stringency with which protocols are reviewed. A newsletter from Stellenbosch University on research ethics activities in the country draws attention to current debates and events and facilitates networking. [3] The recent stand taken by the Chairpersons of RECS in South Africa not to permit studies that do not provide insurance cover for research related studies is one example of how improved knowledge and coordination in South African RECs is making such a contribution. [4]

1. International Research Ethics Network for Southern Africa [IRENSA] http://www.irensa.org
2. Southern Africa Research Ethics Training Initiative [SARETI] http://shsph.up.ac.za/sar...
3. South Africa Research Ethics Committee (SAREC) Newsletter. http://academic.sun.ac.za...
4. Cleaton-Jones P. Research injury in clinical trials in South Africa. Lancet 2006; 367: 458-9

No competing interests declared.