BMC Medical Ethics 17 (1):64 (2016)

Francis Barchi
Rutgers University - New Brunswick
BackgroundEthical and regulatory guidance on the collection and use of human biospecimens for research forms an essential component of national health systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, where rapid advances in genetic- and genomic-based technologies are fueling clinical trials involving HBS and the establishment of large-scale biobanks.MethodsAn extensive multi-level search for publicly available ethics regulatory guidance was conducted for each SSA country. A second review documented active trials listed in the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform as of January 2015 in which HBS collection was specified in the protocol. Findings were combined to determine the extent to which countries that are study sites for HBS-related research are supported by regulatory guidance language on the collection, use, ownership and storage of biospecimens.ResultsOf the 49 SSA countries, 29 had some form of national ethics guidance, yet only 17 provided language relating to HBS-related research, with specific guidance on consent, ownership, reuse, storage, and export/import/transfer. Ten countries accounted for 84 % of the active clinical trials involving the collection of HBS in SSA. All except one of these countries were found to have some national guidance in the form of regulations, codes of ethics, and/or standard operating procedures; however, only seven of the ten offered any language specific to HBS.ConclusionsDespite the fact that the bulk of registered clinical trials in SSA involving HBS, as well as existing and proposed sites for biorepositories under the H3Africa Initiative, are currently situated in countries with the most complete ethics and regulatory guidance, variability in the regulations themselves may create challenges for planned and future pan-African collaborations and may require legislative action at the national level to revise. Countries in SSA that still lack regulatory guidance on HBS will require extensive health system strengthening in ethics governance before they can be full participants in the modern research enterprise.
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DOI 10.1186/s12910-016-0146-9
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