J Med Ethics 35:189-193 doi:10.1136/jme.2008.025189
  • Research ethics

Composition, training needs and independence of ethics review committees across Africa: are the gate-keepers rising to the emerging challenges?

Open Access
  1. A Nyika1,
  2. W Kilama1,
  3. R Chilengi1,
  4. G Tangwa2,
  5. P Tindana3,
  6. P Ndebele4,
  7. J Ikingura5
  1. 1
    African Malaria Network Trust (AMANET), Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
  2. 2
    University of Yaoundé 1, Yaoundé, Cameroon
  3. 3
    Navrongo Health Research Centre, Navrongo, Ghana
  4. 4
    College of Medicine, University of Malawi, Blantyre, Malawi
  5. 5
    National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
  1. Dr Aceme Nyika, AMANET, Box 33207 Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; anyika{at}
  • Received 15 March 2008
  • Revised 16 June 2008
  • Accepted 28 August 2008


Background: The high disease burden of Africa, the emergence of new diseases and efforts to address the 10/90 gap have led to an unprecedented increase in health research activities in Africa. Consequently, there is an increase in the volume and complexity of protocols that ethics review committees in Africa have to review.

Methods: With a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the African Malaria Network Trust (AMANET) undertook a survey of 31 ethics review committees (ERCs) across sub-Saharan Africa as an initial step to a comprehensive capacity-strengthening programme. The number of members per committee ranged from 3 to 21, with an average of 11. Members of 10 institutional committees were all from the institution where the committees were based, raising prima facie questions as to whether independence and objectivity could be guaranteed in the review work of such committees.

Results: The majority of the committees (92%) cited scientific design of clinical trials as the area needing the most attention in terms of training, followed by determination of risks and benefits and monitoring of research. The survey showed that 38% of the ERC members did not receive any form of training. In the light of the increasing complexity and numbers of health research studies being conducted in Africa, this deficit requires immediate attention.

Outcome: The survey identified areas of weakness in the operations of ERCs in Africa. Consequently, AMANET is addressing the identified needs and weaknesses through a 4-year capacity-building project.


  • Competing interests: None.