Challenges of establishing a Community Advisory Board (CAB) in a low-income, low-resource setting: experiences from Bagamoyo, Tanzania

Health Res Policy Syst. 2009 Jun 17;7:16. doi: 10.1186/1478-4505-7-16.


Objective: Community Advisory Boards are now seen as standard practice for clinical vaccine and drug trials worldwide. In the past, most Community Advisory Boards (CABs) were established by activists and lobbyists to monitor HIV/AIDS vaccine and drug trials in developed countries. In Africa the first CAB was established in Uganda in 1990 in conjunction with an HIV vaccine project and has since been followed by others in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. In 2007, the Bagamoyo branch of the Ifakara Health Institute initiated the formation of a CAB. The aim was to properly educate and empower elected CAB members to become full partners in all research activities concerning the public within the Bagamoyo area.

Methods and results: Beginning in 2007, staff visited each of the 24 villages within the study area to inform the communities about the proposed CAB and asked them to elect two individuals to represent their village on the CAB. The first attempt was hampered by community leaders selecting themselves, which led to inconsistent attendance, gender imbalance, and political infighting. New criteria for the selection of representatives were implemented to exclude governmental leaders, illiterate representatives and to promote a one-to-one gender balance. The newly appointed representatives underwent training and have participated in CAB meetings largely devoid of the negative issues previously encountered.

Conclusion: The successfully established CAB has led to improved relations with the community and facilitated the recruitment of study subjects. Our experiences show that, it is possible to establish a non-specific CAB in a low-income setting.