STReK regional conference on strengthening research ethics

The University of Nairobi (UoN) in partnership with the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) and Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) received funding from EDCTP to build the capacity of the newly established Research Ethics Committees in a project titled “Strengthening Research Ethics Oversight in Kenya (STReK).”

In this regard, UoN jointly hosted the “Regional Conference on Strengthening Research Ethics” at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, from 24 – 26 May 2022. The main goal of this conference was to share experiences and lessons learned with other Research Ethics Committees (RECs) in the East African Region and to encourage best practices in research ethics oversight and enhance networking.  This was achieved through keynote addresses, abstract-driven presentation sessions, and panel discussions. Participants were members of Research Ethics Committees (RECs) from Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

The conference was organised under the following sub-themes:

  1. Research ethics review and oversight
  2. Research involving vulnerable populations
  3. Research during pandemics/emergencies/epidemics
  4. Digitisation of the ethics review process
  5. Data protection in research
  6. Capacity building in research ethics
  7. Management and administration of RECs
  8. Contemporary issues in research ethics.

The three-day conference covered a wide variety of topics relevant to strengthening RECs, including the use of ICT in improving turnaround time in ethics review, implementation of training and mentorship programmes, evaluation of their capacity, and institutional support. Other topics included contemporary issues in research ethics, research ethics in social science research, data sharing and personal data protection in research, roles of lay persons in RECs, ethics in research involving adolescents, and strengthening research capacity in mental health research in low and middle- income countries, among others.

The conference began with a keynote address by Prof. Keymanthri Moodley from the Centre for Bioethics and Law at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Prof. Moodley highlighted key issues that should be taken into consideration in strengthening research ethics in Africa. These include decolonisation of bioethics scholarship; promotion of stakeholder engagement; taking African philosophical accounts, such as “ubuntu” into consideration in conducting research involving human participants; and creation of leadership and formation of bioethics networks in Africa.

Prof. Jesang Hutchinson, the UoN Associate Vice Chancellor, Research Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) emphasised that good research must be conducted in an ethical manner and reminded participants that research ethics is the cornerstone of good research. Research should be beneficial and aligned to the country’s national priorities and should protect research participants, seek consent, and respect participants. She also indicated that the consistently high ranking of UoN both locally and globally is attributed to the contribution made by researchers at the institution.

In his remarks, Prof. Walter Oyawa, NACOSTI Director General, indicated that he is proud to be associated with UoN and other stakeholders as they continue to play a critical role in ensuring quality research in Kenya. He highlighted the fact that there is a deep and rapid technological change in the world and Kenya cannot afford to lag behind.

In his remarks, Dr. Evans Kamuri, CEO of KNH, stated that research is very important to institutions, countries and the world at large, and should not be undermined. He pointed out that in the healthcare field, research provides very important information about disease strengths, risk factors and outcomes of treatment and gives a way forward in terms of public health interventions, management of health systems, and how care is delivered.

Prof. Walter Jaoko, Coordinator of the STReK project, stressed the need to strengthen research ethics in Kenya, creating a research network and sharing experiences by researchers.

The UoN team conveyed great appreciation to EDCTP for funding all the project activities and also appreciated NACOSTI and KNH for their support. EDCTP was represented by the Project Officer, Nuraan Fakier.