The forthcoming publication in Developing World Bioethics of COHRED’s paper, titled “Mapping African ethical review committee activity onto capacity needs: The MARC initiative and HRWeb’s interactive database of RECs in Africa” is based on data from the MARC project in late 2010. MARC is a three-year project funded by the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP). It aims to create a sustainable, interactive and self-updating web-based map of Research Ethics Review and Drug Regulatory Capacity in Africa.
Expanding health research activity in low- and middle-income countries has resulted in a rise in the need for sound ethical review structures and functions, namely Research Ethics Committees (RECs). These seem to be lagging behind as a result of the enormous challenges facing these countries, including poor resource availability and lack of capacity. There is an urgent need for capacity and resource development in Africa.
MARC provides the first comprehensive interactive database of RECs in Africa, which will allow for the identification of key relationships and analyses of capacity, using COHRED’s Health Research website (HRWeb). This platform can also be used by key stakeholders in health research in Africa, to identify capacity, constraints, and development needs, and thus seek appropriate support to improve their ability to provide quality and comprehensive health research oversight.
The MARC site, supported by HRWeb, uses a wiki-type approach which allows for interactive and self-updating networking and knowledge-sharing in real time. Because REC capacity and activity involves more than just ethics committee data, the benefit of the pairing of MARC with HRWeb is the potential for cross-linking all the data related to health research that is available on HRWeb. This allows ethics capacity analysis in relation to general health research system development and national health research priorities. It also encourages comparisons between countries inside and outside Africa, and facilitates sustainability and knowledge sharing throughout the project. As a result of this approach, MARC has captured more information about the number and characteristics of RECs in Africa to date than any known alternative initiative or listing.
The discussion paper to be published in Developing World Bioethics serves as a starting point by providing a descriptive illustration of the current state of RECs in Africa. At the time of writing, RECs in 25 African countries1 had listed their basic level information on MARC, while a total of 98 RECs in Africa were listed on MARC. The paper presents a breakdown of RECs by region – both geographic and language – and maps the number of RECs in each country against total population and against number of people with formal training in ethics review.
Since the time of writing, African RECs mapped on HRWeb have increased significantly – from 98 to 125 RECs. MARC has also expanded its efforts into other continents: thus far, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has come on board and mapped 1010 RECs on HRWeb.
The potential of MARC lies in the mapping of current ethical review activity onto capacity needs. MARC’s ultimate goal is to ensure that everyone who needs such information would be able to upload it or access it, regardless of where they are based. Therefore, it is available globally;RECs and others interested in research ethics review anywhere in the world can use it.
1 Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.