Clinical Ethics Committees in Africa: lost in the shadow of RECs/IRBs?29 April 2021
Abstract Background Clinical Ethics Committees (CECs) 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 (CESs) 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 (p = 0.005). All participants were familiar with Research Ethics Committees (RECs), 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 (81.7%) 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.