Rules of engagement: perspectives on stakeholder engagement for genomic biobanking research in South Africa

BMC Medical Ethics 19 (1):13 (2018)
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Abstract

Genomic biobanking research is undergoing exponential growth in Africa raising a host of legal, ethical and social issues. Given the scientific complexity associated with genomics, there is a growing recognition globally of the importance of science translation and community engagement for this type of research, as it creates the potential to build relationships, increase trust, improve consent processes and empower local communities. Despite this level of recognition, there is a lack of empirical evidence of the practise and processes for effective CE in genomic biobanking in Africa. To begin to address this vacuum, 17 in-depth face to face interviews were conducted with South African experts in genomic biobanking research and CE to provide insight into the process, benefits and challenges of CE in South Africa. Emerging themes were analysed using a contextualised thematic approach. Several themes emerged concerning the conduct of CE in genomic biobanking research in Africa. Although the literature tends to focus on the local community in CE, respondents in this study described three different layers of stakeholder engagement: community level, peer level and high level. Community level engagement includes potential participants, community advisory boards and field workers; peer level engagement includes researchers, biobankers and scientists, while high level engagement includes government officials, funders and policy makers. Although education of each stakeholder layer is important, education of the community layer can be most challenging, due to the complexity of the research and educational levels of stakeholders in this layer. CE is time-consuming and often requires an interdisciplinary research team approach. However careful planning of the engagement strategy, including an understanding of the differing layers of stakeholder engagement, and the specific educational needs at each layer, can help in the development of a relationship based on trust between the research team and various stakeholder groups. Since the community layer often comprises vulnerable populations in low and middle income countries, co-development of innovative educational tools on genomic biobanking is essential. CE is clearly a component of a broader process best described as stakeholder engagement.

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