by Amref Health Africa

Bad science is founded on poor ethics. There is a need for the protection of human participants in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and to ensure all studies conducted are ethically and scientifically sound to avert ethical dumping during research.

Amref Research and Ethics and Scientific Review Committee has launched an Online Platform. A first of its kind in the region, the platform is aimed at improving efficiency and enhancing the user experience during research.

The Amref ESRC was established in 2009 and is accredited by National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) to ensure the protection of rights and welfare of human research participants and oversee adherence to research policies and guidelines related to proposal development and implementation. It underpins the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which recognizes the right of everyone “to share in scientific advancement and its benefits”.

“The developments in the global arena in research, human rights, bioethics and the social constructs of public health have led to an avalanche of new ethical issues that need to be urgently addressed. Further, new encounters and greater demand for collaborative studies, occasioned by the ever-rising need to conduct ethically and scientifically sound clinical trials in populations in Sub-Saharan Africa; such as the clinical trials on COVID 19 vaccines and injectable ARVs currently being conducted in Kenya” expressed Dr. Meshack Ndirangu – Amref Kenya Country Director.

“The platform will not only empower the staff and members of the Amref Ethics and Scientific review committee to continue delivering on their mandate but also boost the confidence of research scientists who submit protocols to the ESRC in the unassailable quality and timely services provided by the committee” he added.

The ESRC mandate also includes monitoring the ongoing research that has been approved in the country within the resources available and through cost-effective means. The ESRC membership is made up of experts with diverse expertise with 7 members from external institutions (Institutions of higher learning, research institutions and Community based organizations), 4 staff from Amref Health Africa and 2 from Amref International University. This diversity in expertise has promoted quality and objective review of protocols submitted to the ESRC. The ESRC has also contributed to the generation of new knowledge and literature through presentations on various conferences as well as the mentorship of researchers on matters of research ethics.

“The online platform was first established to reduce the manual work involved in the ethical and scientific reviews by the ESRC and has continued to evolve to a capacity to facilitate external reviews. Some of our current partnerships and reliance agreements in research include the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and RTI International, Harvard University, and the University of Maryland among others” says Professor. Mohamed Karama, ESRC Chairman.

“The ESRC online platform has improved efficiency in review and approval of research protocols, achieving expedited review timelines of 2-3 weeks and the normal review which takes 1-2 months. The number of protocols reviewed has also increased from 5 protocols in 2009 to 280 protocols reviewed in 2021” he explained.

Speaking during the launch, Dr Benson Mburu a representative from NACOSTI lauded Amref for setting precedence and integrating technology in research for efficiency in an era where emerging issues including clinical trials, biobanking, stem cell research, biological material transfer and artificial intelligence among others are raising a myriad of ethical challenges. “The Amref ESRC online platform comes at a time when there is a blurred line between ethics and sciences and will raise the standards of transparency and accountability in research. The work being done at the ESRC has promoted ethically and scientifically sound research in the region and beyond, which should be a challenge to other institutions to generate evidence-based information and solutions to enhance the quality of research in Africa,” he said.

Other services enabled by the platform include automated payment, tracking of protocols and immediate feedback, data analysis and instant reporting. During his closing remarks, Prof. Karama reiterated that the platform would go a long way in addressing the knowledge gaps on ethical issues involving human subjects and emerging trends in scientific research.

Edna Mosiara, Communications Officer, Amref Health Africa in Kenya

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