Background: Research activities in sub-Saharan Africa may be limited to delegated tasks due to the strong control from Western collaborators, which could lead to scientific production of little value in terms of its impact on social and economic innovation in less developed areas. However, the current contexts of international biomedical research including the development of public-private partnerships and research institutions in Africa suggest that scientific activities are growing in sub-Saharan Africa. This study aims to describe the patterns of clinical research activities at a sub-Saharan biomedical research center.
Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with a core group of researchers at the Medical Research Unit of the Albert Schweitzer Hospital from June 2009 to February 2010 in Lambaréné, Gabon. Scientific activities running at the MRU as well as the implementation of ethical and regulatory standards were covered by the interview sessions.
Results: The framework of clinical research includes transnational studies and research initiated locally. In transnational collaborations, a sub-Saharan research institution may be limited to producing confirmatory and late-stage data with little impact on economic and social innovation. However, ethical and regulatory guidelines are being implemented taking into consideration the local contexts. Similarly, the scientific content of studies designed by researchers at the MRU, if local needs are taken into account, may potentially contribute to a scientific production with long-term value on social and economic innovation in sub-Saharan Africa.
Conclusion: Further research questions and methods in social sciences should comprehensively address the construction of scientific content with the social, economic and cultural contexts surrounding research activities.