By Morenike Oluwatoyin Folayan and Elhadji Mbaye
Countries in West Africa often require that international researchers have local collaborators as co-researchers for many good reasons. The local investigator can help ensure the design of the study is culturally sensitive and locally appropriate.
The investigator also gains knowledge and skills that can be used for planning and conduct of locally-relevant research. The local investigator also serves as the local contact on the management of the research.
Many of the 24 participants at the 3-day training on the review of research protocols during infectious disease epidemics organized by the West African Task Force for the Control of Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious diseases (WATER) agreed that this goal is often not achieved.
Local investigators often become data collectors with little or no significant inputs into the design of the study protocols. Many do not have capacity built: despite being local investigators for multiple studies, they still cannot independently write an award-winning grant. They therefore serve as tools for entry into the country rather than resources being developed for country relevance.
Participants therefore advocated that for all research protocols submitted for review, it is important to ask that the curriculum vitae of the local investigator be submitted along with the research protocols.
Often times, the same big-wigs in the industry are invited as local investigators. They simply become too busy to adequately play their roles. Institutional review boards need to review their curriculum vitae and query their ability to make out time to play their roles on researches they serve as investigators for.
This is in addition to reviewing the curriculum vitae to identify if they have the competency to play the role for that protocol.
The implication of such review was however, not defined.
Can institutional review boards not approve a research study protocol because they feel the local investigator may not be competent enough to handle the role because (s)he has too many ongoing studies?
Can ethics committee members ask that a research be suspended if they find the local investigator not adequately playing the oversight role during field visits?
The newly established Network for Ethics Committees operating in West Africa seem to have a big role to play in helping to define guidelines for ethics committee operations on the continent.
The future will tell the impact of this committee on improving competency for protocol review and monitoring in the sub-region.
Morenike Oluwatoyin Folayan is of New HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Advocacy Society (NHVMAS), Nigeria.
Elhadji Mbaye is of IRESSEF, Senegal.