Culture and genetic screening in Africa

Developing World Bioethics 9 (3):128-137 (2009)
Africa is a continent in transition amidst a revival of cultural practices. Over previous years the continent was robbed of the benefits of medical advances by unfounded cultural practices surrounding its cultural heritage. In a fast moving field like genetic screening, discussions of social and policy aspects frequently need to take place at an early stage to avoid the dilemma encountered by Western medicine. This paper, examines the potential challenges to genetic screening in Africa. It discusses how cultural practices may affect genetic screening. It views genomics science as a culture which is trying to diffuse into another one. It argues that understanding the existing culture will help the diffusion process. The paper emphasizes the importance of genetic screening for Africa, by assessing the current level of burden of diseases in the continent and shows its role in reducing disease prevalence. The paper identifies and discusses the cultural challenges that are likely to confront genetic screening on the continent, such as the worldview, rituals and taboos, polygyny, culture of son preference and so on. It also discusses cultural practices that may promote the science such as inheritance practices, spouse selection practices and naming patterns. Factors driving the cultural challenges are identified and discussed, such as socialization process, patriarchy, gender, belief system and so on. Finally, the paper discusses the way forward and highlights the ethical considerations of doing genetic screening on the continent. However, the paper also recognizes that African culture is not monolithic and therefore makes a case for exceptions.
Keywords Africa  developing world bioethics  research ethics  ethics  genetics  informed consent  bioethics
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DOI 10.1111/j.1471-8847.2009.00259.x
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