Perspectives of agriculture, nutrition and health researchers regarding research governance in Malawi. Using a leadership, ethics, governance and systems framework

BMC Medical Ethics 24 (1):1-12 (2023)
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Abstract

Background Research ethics is intertwined with and depends on building robust and responsive research governance systems alongside researchers. Globally there has been substantial investment in agriculture, nutrition, and health (ANH) research motivated by the need to improve health outcomes, such as micronutrient deficiencies in Sub-Saharan Africa. Although there has been a notable focus on ethical issues inherent in ANH studies, there has been scanty research examining researchers’ attitudes related to ANH research. This study was conducted to explore the perspectives of researchers who conducted an agronomic biofortification study in Malawi. Methodology In-depth interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of ten ANH researchers. Interviews were conducted online via Zoom, audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and thematically analysed using the Leadership, Ethics, Governance and Systems Framework. Results Four core aspects emerged: Leadership: The relevance of building ethics leadership and ethical competence among researchers. Ethics: There is a need to develop a framework that operationalises core ethical values that can guide the implementation of ANH research. Governance: Research guidelines were perceived to be too generic to guide ANH research. Systems: Researchers’ recommended the establishment of a specialised ANH research ethics committee. Conclusions The findings highlight the significance of building ethics leadership and supporting ethical competency amongst researchers. Researchers recommended the development of tailored approaches rather than utilising generic governance systems and frameworks that are drawn from medical research and thus not fit for purpose in this field. In Malawi, specialised ethics review committees are needed to guide ANH research.

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