A newly formed National Bioethics Committee in Gabon is latest fruit of efforts to ensure that the growing number of clinical trials conducted in sub-Saharan Africa does not compromise the safety of research participants.

The Committee was established with the help of a grant from the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), which noted that ethical review capacity is wanting in many African countries. “Inadequate training, limited infrastructural facilities and lack of funding remain a big challenge,” the EDCTP commented.

Gabon’s National Bioethics Committee comprises 10 members who represent the country’s three main research institutes (USS Libreville, URM Lambarene and CIRMF Franceville) as well as the relevant Gabonese hospitals and ministries. The initiative was facilitated not only by the EDCTP grant but by training support from the Vienna School of Clinical Research, the Government of the Republic of Gabon and a committed team of Gabonese nationals.

Further backing came from the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Africa Malaria Network Trust (AMANET) and the Institut Pasteur of Dakar.

The National Bioethics Committee is now operational and expects to start reviewing protocols for clinical trials shortly, the EDCTP said. Negotiations are underway to include the Committee in UNESCO’s Global Ethics Observatory Database. This would mean the Committee not only had proven ability to assess research but could advise on ethical problems, formulate recommendations, and foster debate, education and public awareness, the EDCTP pointed out.

The Partnership has previously funded research ethics committees in Zimbabwe, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda. It is working with the Swiss-based international Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED) to map ethics and regulatory capacity in Africa, and with the WHO to strengthen national regulatory frameworks.