Biobanks are precariously situated at the intersection of science, genetics, genomics, society, ethics, the law and politics. This multi-disciplinarity has given rise to a new discourse in health research involving diverse stakeholders. Each stakeholder is embedded in a unique context and articulates his/her biobanking activities differently. To researchers, biobanks carry enormous transformative potential in terms of advancing scientific discovery and knowledge. However, in the context of power asymmetries in Africa and a distrust in science born out of historical exploitation, researchers (...) must balance the scientific imperative of collecting, storing and sharing high quality biological samples with obligations to donors/participants, communities, international collaborators, regulatory and ethics authorities. To date, researcher perspectives on biobanking in South Africa have not been explored and documented. In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 21 researchers – 8 in the Western Cape, 3 in Gauteng and 10 in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Interviews lasted approximately 40–60 min and were audiotaped with consent. Thematic analysis of the transcribed interviews was conducted by the co-authors. Researchers articulated serious concerns over standardised regulatory approaches that failed to consider the heterogeneity of biobanks. Given that biobanks differ considerably, guidelines and RECs need to stratify risk accordingly and governance processes and structures must be flexible. While RECs were regarded as an important component of the governance structure researchers expressed concern about their expertise in biobanking. Operational management of biobanks was regarded as an ethical imperative and a pre-requisite to building trust during consent processes. While broad general consent was preferred, tiered consent was thought to be more consistent with respect for autonomy and building trust. Material Transfer Agreements were often lacking when biosamples were exported and this was perceived to impact negatively on trust. On the other hand, researchers believed that authentic community engagement would help to build trust. Building trust will best be achieved via a system of governance structures and processes that precede the establishment of a biobank and monitor progress from the point of sample collection through to future use, including export. Such governance structures must be robust and must include comprehensive national legislation, policy and contextualised guidelines. Currently such governance infrastructure appears to be lacking in many African countries including South Africa. Capacity development of all stakeholders including REC members will enhance expeditious and efficient review of biobanking protocols which in turn will reinforce trust in the researcher-donor relationship. Science translation and community engagement in biobanking is integral to the success of biobanking in South Africa. (shrink)
Biological sample and data transfer within and out of Africa is steeped in controversy With the H3Africa project now aiming to establish biobanks in Africa, it is essential that there are ethical and legal governance structures in place to oversee the operation of these biobanks. Such governance is essential to ensuring that donors are protected, that cultural perspectives are respected and that researchers have a ready availability of ethically sourced biological samples.
The use of biological samples in research raises a number of ethical issues in relation to consent, storage, export, benefit sharing and re-use of samples. Participant perspectives have been explored in North America and Europe, with only a few studies reported in Africa. The amount of research being conducted in Africa is growing exponentially with volumes of biological samples being exported from the African continent. In order to investigate the perspectives of African research participants, we conducted a study at research (...) sites in the Western Cape and Gauteng, South Africa. (shrink)
BackgroundThe use of a Community Advisory Board is one method of ensuring community engagement in community based research. To identify the process used to constitute CABs in Zambia, this paper draws on the perspectives of both research team members and CAB members from research groups who used CABs in Lusaka. Enabling and restricting factors impacting on the functioning of the CAB were identified.MethodsAll studies approved by the University of Zambia Bioethics Research Committee from 2008 – 2012 were reviewed to identify (...) those studies that were likely to include a CAB. Eight teams with studies that included a CAB were identified. For each of these studies, consent was obtained to conduct an informal interview with a research team member and to obtain contact details for one CAB member. In total 14 interviews were conducted with 8 research team members and 6 CAB members from 12–30 August 2013.ResultsIdentification of potential CAB members from the community and their participation in developing the terms of reference for CABs was perceived to have contributed to the success of the CAB. Due to the trust that the community had in members of their community the CABs were then in a stronger position to influence community participation in the research. Training of CAB members was identified as a factor that enhanced the functioning of a CAB. Lack of commitment and low literacy levels of CAB members posed a threat to the role of the CAB. Although compensation in the form of a stipend was not provided, CAB members were provided with transport reimbursements for attending meetings.ConclusionsSelection of CAB members from within the community contributed to community confidence in the CAB, enhancing its ability to act as an effective link between study team and community. This contributed positively to the conduct of the study and enhanced community awareness and acceptance of the research. However, establishment of study specific CABs has the potential to compromise CAB independence due to support provided by the research team in the form of transport reimbursements and other forms of support. Consideration should be given to establishing community wide Community Advisory Boards that could function across a range of studies to increase independent objective decision-making. (shrink)
Background: The banking of biological samples raises a number of ethical issues in relation to the storage,export and re-use of samples. Whilst there is a growing body of literature exploringparticipant perspectives in North America and Europe, hardly any studies have been reportedin Africa. This is problematic in particular in light of the growing amount of research takingplace in Africa, and with the rise of biobanking practices also on the African continent. Inorder to investigate the perspectives of African research participants, we (...) conducted a studywith research participants in a TB study in the Western Cape, South Africa. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted using an interview guide which drew on the mostprominent themes expressed in current literature on sample storage, re-use and exportation.Interviews were conducted in Afrikaans and subsequently translated into English by the sameinterviewer. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analysed qualitatively. Results: The results of our study indicate that the majority of participants were supportive of givingone-time consent to the storage and re-use of their samples. The concept of research being fora "good cause" was a central prerequisite. Additionally, a significant minority requested thatthey be re-contacted if a future use was not stipulated on the original consent. There was alsoconsiderable variation in how participants understood the concept of a 'good cause', withparticipants describing three distinct categories of research, of which two were generallythought to constitute 'good cause' research. Research that was for-profit was considered tofall outside the spectrum of 'good cause' research. Participants displayed confidence in theabilities of the researchers to make future decisions regarding sample use, but seemedunaware of the role of ethics committees in either this process or more generally. Conclusions: Participants expressed a wide and complex range of views about issues of sample storage andre-use, and they showed a great deal of trust in researchers. Participants' willingness to havetheir samples stored and re-used is consistent with findings from existing studies. However,in contrast to existing literature, participants were generally not in favour of for-profitresearch. Further research needs to be done to explore these ideas in other communities, bothin South Africa and other countries. (shrink)
In 2008, researchers reported that Timothy Brown , a man with HIV infection and leukemia, received a stem-cell transplant that removed HIV from his body as far as can be detected. In 2013, an infant born with HIV infection received anti-retroviral treatment shortly after birth, but was then lost to the health care system for the next six months. When tested for HIV upon return, the child had no detectable viral load despite cessation of treatment. These remarkable clinical developments have (...) helped reinvigorate the field of ‘HIV cure’ research. (shrink)
Compensation for research related injuries is a subject that is increasingly gaining traction in developing countries which are burgeoning destinations of multi center research. However, the existence of disparate compensation rules violates the ethical principle of fairness. The current paper presents a comparison of the policies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. A systematic search of good clinical practice guidelines was conducted employing search strategies modeled in line with the recommendations of ADPTE Collaboration. The search focused on three (...) main areas namely bibliographic data bases, clinical practice guidelines data bases and a restricted internet search. A manual search of references cited in relevant guideline documents was also conducted. The search terms, Medical Subject Headings and key words were developed for a PubMed platform and then adapted for all other data bases. The search terms were kept constant for each country with the only difference being the country name. The documents so obtained were subjected to systematic content analysis. The study revealed that there is vast panoply of regulations which exist on a continuum. On one extreme is India with comprehensive regulations that are codified into law, and on the other end there is China which does not have specific laws regulating research related injuries. There are a number of differences and similarities such as mandatory insurance requirements, existence of no fault compensation, compensable injuries and the role of research ethics committees. It is imperative to enact legislations that protect participants without stifling the research enterprise. There is need for consistency and ideally harmonization of such regulations at a global level. A model policy on compensation for research related injuries should borrow from the best aspects of the different country policies and should be informed by the cardinal ethics principles of autonomy, justice and beneficence. (shrink)
Traditional male circumcision is a deeply entrenched cultural practice in South Africa. In recent times, there have been increasing numbers of botched circumcisions by untrained and unscrupulous practitioners, leading to genital mutilation and often, the need for penile amputation. Hailed as a world’s first, a team of surgeons conducted the first successful penile transplant in Cape Town, South Africa in 2015. Despite the euphoria of this surgical victory, concerns about the use of this costly intervention in a context of severe (...) resource constraints have been raised. In this paper, we explore some of the ethical implications of penile transplants as a clinical and public health response to the adverse consequences of traditional male circumcision. Given the current fiscal deficits in healthcare and public health sectors, how can one justify costly, high-technology interventions for conditions affecting a small section of the population? Since botched traditional male circumcisions are preventable, is a focus on penile transplantation as a form of treatment reasonable? Finally, do such interventions create undue expectations and false hope among a highly vulnerable and stigmatised group of young men? In this paper, we argue that given limited healthcare resources in South Africa and competing healthcare needs, prevention is a more appropriate response to botched traditional circumcisions than penile transplants. (shrink)
Background HIV prevention research has been fraught with ethical concerns since its inception. These concerns were highlighted during HIV vaccine research and have been elaborated in microbicide research. A host of unique ethical concerns pervade the microbicide research process from trial design to post-trial microbicide availability. Given the urgency of research and development in the face of the devastating HIV pandemic, these ethical concerns represent an enormous challenge for investigators, sponsors and Research Ethics Committees (RECs) both locally and internationally. Discussion (...) Ethical concerns relating to safety in microbicide research are a major international concern. However, in the urgency to develop a medically efficacious microbicide, some of these concerns may not have been anticipated. In the risk-benefit assessment of research protocols, both medical and psycho-social risk must be considered. In this paper four main areas that have a potential for medical and/or psycho-social harm are examined. Male partner involvement is controversial in the setting of covert use of microbicides. However, given the long-term exposure of men to experimental products, this may be methodologically, ethically and legally important. Covert use of microbicides may impact negatively on relationship dynamics leading to psychosocial harm to varying extents. The unexpectedly high rates of pregnancy during clinical trials raise important methodological and ethical concerns. Enrollment of adolescents without parental consent generates ethical and legal concerns that must be carefully considered by RECs and trial sites. Finally, paradoxical outcomes in recent trials internationally have advanced the debate on the nature of informed consent and responsibility of researchers to participants who become HIV positive during or after trials. Summary Phase 3 microbicide trials are an undisputed research and ethical priority in developing countries. However, such trials must be conducted with attention to both methodological and ethical detail. It is imperative that guidelines are formulated to ensure that high ethical standards are maintained despite the scientific urgency of microbicide development. Given the controversy raised by emergent ethical issues during the course of microbicide development, it is important that international consensus is reached amongst the various ethics and regulatory agencies in developing and developed countries alike. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
South Africa currently has a pluralistic health care system with separate public and private sectors. It is, however, moving towards a socialised model with the introduction of National Health Insurance. The South African legislative environment has changed recently with the promulgation of the Consumer Protection Act and proposed amendments to the National Health Act. Patients can now be viewed as consumers from a legal perspective. This has various implications for health care systems, health care providers and the doctor-patient relationship.
BackgroundThe ethical concerns associated with HIV prevention and treatment research have been widely explored in South Africa over the past 3 decades. However, HIV cure research is relatively new to the region and significant ethical and social challenges are anticipated. There has been no published empirical enquiry in Africa into key informant perspectives on HIV cure research. Consequently, this study was conducted to gain preliminary data from South African HIV clinicians, researchers and activists.MethodsIn-depth interviews were conducted on a purposive sample (...) of fourteen key informants in South Africa. Audiotaped interviews were transcribed verbatim with concurrent thematic analysis. The perspectives of HIV clinicians, researchers and activists were captured. Analyst triangulation occurred as the data were analysed by three authors independently.ResultsThe rapid evolution of HIV cure research agendas was prominent with participants expressing some concern that the global North was driving the cure agenda. Participants described a symbiotic relationship between cure, treatment and prevention research necessitating collaboration. Assessing and managing knowledge and expectations around HIV cure research emerged as a central theme related to challenges to constructing ‘cure’ - how patients understand the idea of cure is important in explaining the complexity of cure research especially in the South African context where understanding of science is often challenging. Managing expectations and avoiding curative misconception will have implications for consent processes. Unique strategies in cure research could include treatment interruption, which has the potential to create therapeutic and ethical conflict and will be perceived as a significant risk. Ethical challenges in cure research will impact on informed consent and community engagement.ConclusionsIt was encouraging to note the desire for synergy amongst researchers and clinicians working in the fields of prevention, treatment and cure. Translation of complex HIV cure science into lay language is critical. Moving forward, RECs must be adequately constituted with scientific expertise and community representation when reviewing cure protocols. It is hoped that knowledge and resource sharing in the context of collaboration between research scientists working in cure and those working in treatment and prevention will accelerate progress towards cure. (shrink)
Trial participation in the proposed HIV Vaccine Trials in South Africa is discussed in the context of the ethical tension that exists between international ethical research standards and local standards of care and cultural norms in the Third World. The important concepts of informed consent, risk-benefit ratio and fair treatment of trial participants are interpreted differently in traditional, rural African communities, where a moderate form of communitarianism referred to as "Ubuntu" or "communalism" is still prevalent. Research is an altruistic endeavor (...) that benefits communities and societies as a result of risks taken by individuals. Universal ethical guidelines that are highly individualistic and fail to emphasize communalism may represent serious problems for the sort of research needed in Africa today. (shrink)
The massive growth in global health research in past decades has posed many challenges for its effective ethical oversight, not least of which is how best to provide effective protection of research participants. The extent of the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa in particular makes research into prevention technologies for HIV, including HIV vaccine research, a global priority. However, the need for vaccine research must be considered in conjunction with the individual's right to informed consent, which is based on the (...) principle of respect for autonomy. One of the primary human rights violations likely to occur in the context of HIV vaccine research is that potential research participants may not fully understand what participation in research studies entails. People who elect to enrol in HIV vaccine trials are required to understand both the potential negative effects of participation (eg, discrimination) as well as complex scientific concepts such as randomisation and prophylaxis in order to be ethically enrolled. In this study, two vignettes are presented to illustrate two core issues in conducting phase III HIV vaccine trials in low-income countries—namely, (1) from the perspective of participants, the extent to which understanding is a prerequisite for consenting to participate in a trial, and (2) from the perspective of trial investigators, whether it is appropriate to persuade eligible people to enrol in a trial, even though their initial reaction is to decline to participate. These vignettes are used to analyse these issues through the prisms of research ethics and human rights in order to identify helpful synergies. It is argued that the human rights perspective provides a helpful lens on ethical issues. (shrink)
The use of medical stimulants to sustain attention, augment memory and enhance intellectual capacity is increasing in society. The use of Methylphenidate for cognitive enhancement is a subject that has received much attention in the literature and academic circles in recent times globally. Medical doctors and medical students appear to be equally involved in the off-label use of Methylphenidate. This presents a potential harm to society and the individual as the long-term side effect profile of this medication is unknown.
A child is a developing person with evolving capacities that include autonomy, mental capacity and capacity to assume responsibility. Hence, children are entitled to participatory rights in South Africa as observed in the Children’s Act 38 of 2005. According to section 129 of the Act a child may consent to his or her own medical treatment provided that he or she is over the age of 12 years and is of sufficient maturity and decisional capacity to understand the various implications (...) of the treatment including the risks and benefits thereof. However, the Act does not provide a definition for what qualifies as ‘sufficient maturity’ nor does it stipulate how health professionals ought to assess the decisional capacity of a child. In addition, South Africa is a culturally diverse country. The Western liberal notion of autonomy may not necessarily find equal prominence in the mores of people with a different worldview. Hence we demonstrate a few salient comparisons between legal liberal moral theory and African communitarianism as pertinent to the autonomy of the child. Children are rights-holders by virtue of their humanity. Their dignity as individual human persons affords them the entitlement to human rights as contemplated under the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. However, contrary to the traditional Western notion of individual autonomous persons African societies hold a communalistic notion of person hence there is less regard for individual autonomy and rights with more emphasis on the communal good and maintaining the continuity of relationships and interdependencies shared within a community. A child considered in this view is not regarded as a full person. This implies that decisions concerning the child, including consent to medical treatment are discussed and determined by the community to which the child belongs. Lastly, in this article, we draw on the notion of capacity for responsibility to produce a pragmatic definition of sufficient maturity. It seems reasonable to suggest a move away from a general legal age of consent for medical treatment toward more individualised, context-specific approaches in determining the maturity of a child patient to consent to medical treatment. Perhaps, decision-making with respect to consent to the medical treatment of a child belonging to a traditional African community where the notion of a person is embedded in communitarianism ought to involve the child’s parents/guardians/caregivers where possible provided that the best interests of the child are awarded priority. (shrink)
Background Clinical Ethics Committees are well established at healthcare institutions in resource-rich countries. However, there is limited information on established CECs in resource poor countries, especially in Africa. This study aimed to establish baseline data regarding existing formal CECs in Africa to raise awareness of and to encourage the establishment of CECs or Clinical Ethics Consultation Services on the continent. Methods A descriptive study was undertaken using an online questionnaire via SunSurveys to survey healthcare professionals and bioethicists in Africa. Data (...) were subjected to descriptive analysis and Fischer's exact test was applied to determine associations. Texts from the open-ended questions were thematically analysed. Results In total 109 participants from 37 African countries completed the survey in December 2019. A significant association was found between participants’ bioethics qualification or training and involvement in clinical ethics. All participants were familiar with Research Ethics Committees, and initially conflated RECs with CECs. When CECs were explained in detail, approximately 85.3% reported that they had no formal CECs in their institutions. The constraints to developing CECs included lack of training, limited resources, and lack of awareness of CECs. However, the majority of participants were interested in establishing CECs. Participants listed assistance required in establishing CECs including funding, resources, capacity building and collaboration with other known CECs. The results do not reflect CECs established since the onset of COVID-19 in Africa. Conclusions This study provides a first look into CECs in Africa and found very few formal CECs on the continent indicating an urgent need for the establishment of CECs or CESs in Africa. While the majority of healthcare professionals and bioethicists are aware of ethical dilemmas in healthcare, the concept of formal CECs is foreign. This study served to raise awareness of CECs. Research ethics and RECs overshadow CECs in Africa because international funders from the global north support capacity development in research ethics and establish RECs to approve the research they fund in Africa. Raising awareness via educational opportunities, research and conferences about CECs and their role in improving the quality of health care in Africa is sorely needed. (shrink)
Consent processes for clinical trials involving HIV prevention research have generated considerable debate globally over the past three decades. HIV cure/eradication research is scientifically more complex and consequently, consent processes for clinical trials in this field are likely to pose a significant challenge. Given that research efforts are now moving toward HIV eradication, stakeholder engagement to inform appropriate ethics oversight of such research is timely. This study sought to establish the perspectives of a wide range of stakeholders in HIV treatment (...) and research to inform consent processes for cure research. In total, 68 South African stakeholders participated in two qualitative research modalities. In-depth interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 42 individuals - audiotaped with consent. Twenty-six stakeholders participated in three focus group discussions. Thematic analysis of transcribed IDIs and FGDs was conducted. The majority of respondents indicated that there could be unique challenges in HIV cure research requiring special attention. In particular, given the complexity of cure science, translation of concepts into lay language would be critical for potential participants to adequately appreciate risks and benefits in early phase research with experimental interventions. Furthermore, to aid understanding of risks and benefits against a background of desperation for a cure, specially trained facilitators would be required to assist with a psychological assessment prior to consent to avoid curative misconceptions. Long-term participant engagement to assess durability of a cure would mean that the consent process would be prolonged, necessitating annual re-consent. Building trust to maintain such long-term relationships would be critical to retain study participants. Unique consent requirements for cure research in South Africa would include significant efforts to maximise understanding of trial procedures, risks and the need for long-term follow-up. However, the psychological dimension of cure must not be underestimated. Beyond an understanding of cure science, the emotional impact of HIV cure advances the discourse from cure to healing. Consequently, the consent process for cure research would need to be enhanced to include psychological support and counselling. This has several important implications for research ethics review requirements for consent in HIV cure research. (shrink)