Assent, parental consent and reconsent for health research in Africa: thematic analysis of national guidelines and lessons from the SickleInAfrica registry

BMC Medical Ethics 23 (1):1-10 (2022)
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Abstract

The enrolment of children and adolescents in health research requires that attention to be paid to specific assent and consent requirements such as the age range for seeking assent; conditions for parental consent (and waivers); the age group required to provide written assent; content of assent forms; if separate assent and parental consent forms should be used, consent from emancipated young adults; reconsent at the age of adulthood when a waiver of assent requirements may be appropriate and the conditions for waiving assent requirements. There is however very little available information for researchers and ethics committees on how to navigate these different issues. To provide guidance to research initiatives, the SickleInAfrica consortium conducted a thematic analysis of a sample of research ethics guidelines and procedures in African countries, to identify guidance for assent requirements in health research. The thematic analysis revealed that 12 of 24 African countries specified the age group for which assent is required. The minimum age for written assent varied across the countries. Five countries, Algeria, Botswana, Cameroon, Nigeria and The Democratic Republic of Congo require consent from both parents/family council in certain circumstances. Botswana, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda have specific assent/consent requirements for research with emancipated minors. South Africa and Algeria requires re-consent at onset of adulthood. Five countries (Botswana, Cameroon, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania) specified conditions for waiving assent requirements. The CIOMS and the ICH-GCP guidelines had the most comprehensive information on assent requirements compared to other international guidelines. An interactive map with assent requirements for different African countries is provided. The results show a major gap in national regulations for the inclusion of minors in health research. The SickleInAfrica experience in setting up a multi-country SCD registry in Africa highlights the need for developing and harmonising national and international guidelines on assent and consent requirements for research involving minors. Harmonisation of assent requirements will help facilitate collaborative research across countries.

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