A new initiative aimed at fostering medical research ethics committees in Africa was launched in Paris on 27 January. The 'networking for ethics on biomedical research in Africa' (NEBRA) initiative, financed under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), also intends to encourage the participation of African research ethics committees in the international debate on ethics. 'NEBRA is a logical response to the needs expressed by African partners who want to participate in international medical research and attract medical research for their countries' health priorities,' said NEBRA coordinator François Hirsch, from the French National Institute for Research and Health (INSERM). 'Improved ethical practices will enable the participating countries to attract clinical research fulfilling international requirements in ethics in their regions. As a result, the countries will benefit from the research which will lead to improved management of public health issues like malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis,' he added. The project brings together four African countries, Benin, Gabon, Gambia and Mali, the INSERM, the UK's Medical Research Council (MRC), Germany's Department of Parasitology at the Eberhard Karls University, and the World Health Organisation (WHO). 11 other African countries are also involved in the project as participating countries. Together they will aim to develop a deeper understanding of the ethical issues raised by research in Africa, and identify the people working in that area and their needs. The initiative follows from the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) aimed at accelerating the evaluation and development of therapeutic and preventative medicines for malaria, tuberculosis (TB) and HIV/AIDS in developing countries. For EDCTP to be successful, there needs to be adequate capacity for reviewing research ethics in Africa. At present, however, it is not even known how much capacity already exists. As the project partners explain, the first stage of the initiative will involve students from the 15 participating countries conducting interviews with health ministers or university representatives in order to identify the existing ethics review capacity and further needs for each individual country. If successful, NEBRA will be extended to other African nations. It is hoped the programme will boost Africa's scientific capacity and make African countries international players in biomedical research.
Benin, Gabon, The Gambia, Mali