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                                                                                         ©Sebastiao Salgado

Bioethics for Francophone Africa?


  Over the last decades, biomedical research has been increasingly taking place in low-income countries, including Francophone African countries. This research is conducted largely by powerful agencies in the industrialized world, and is necessary given high disease burdens in the developing world and the threat these diseases pose to local communities, regional development and global stability.

  However, unexpected and complex ethical challenges may be encountered when research is conducted in developing world settings.

  In the mid-1990’s, controversial studies on mother-to-child HIV transmission conducted in Africa and South East Asia exposed the potential for exploitation in international biomedical research. Those studies also generated a general debate about the ethics of international biomedical research. Ethical issues in this debate include:


Is it permissible to conduct studies with populations who may not fully understand the concept of ‘biomedical research’?
What counts as an ‘undue incentive’ to participate in research when you are dealing with a poor community without access to basic health care?
Is it correct to seek a child’s assent to participate in research when the notion of ‘children’s rights’ is culturally foreign to that community?
What obligations do research institutions have towards participants, their families, or their communities when the research is over?


  Dealing appropriately with these difficult issues in particular cases requires knowledge and training in research ethics. Until recently, the theory and practice of research ethics was limited to the industrialized world. Research ethics training almost exclusively took place in North America and Europe, where virtually all the world’s bioethics centers were located.

  But to ensure the responsible conduct of biomedical research in non-Western and developing world settings, research ethics capacity must be globalized.

  Responding to this need, the Fogarty International Center since 2000 has provided funding for institutions to develop bioethics curricula and support the training of developing country professionals who can assume the diverse responsibilities of bioethicists in their home countries.

  In Fall 2004, the School of Public Health at UNC-Chapel Hill, together with our partners at the Kinshasa School of Public Health (Democratic Republic of Congo) and the University of Louvain ( Belgium), became proud recipients of a Fogarty International Bioethics Education and Career Development Award.


Related links

- Fogarty International Center
- Other Fogarty bioethics training projects worldwide


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