Biomedical Research Ethics Committees in sub-Saharan Africa: a collective review of their structure, functioning, and outcomes

J Empir Res Hum Res Ethics. 2015 Apr;10(2):169-84. doi: 10.1177/1556264615575511. Epub 2015 Mar 6.


Research Ethics Committees (RECs) are mandated to protect human participants by conducting ethical reviews of biomedical research. To date, there is a dearth of information on the structure, functioning, and outcomes of RECs in Africa. This article reviews empirical studies investigating African RECs, with the aim of providing an overview of what is known and identifying gaps in our knowledge. We conducted a literature search of the EBSCO, PubMed, and Google Scholar electronic databases. Twenty-three empirical studies reporting on the structure, functions, and outcomes of African RECs were included in our analysis. The review yielded limited systematic data on RECs in Africa. Available empirical evidence suggests that challenges hampering the effective functioning of RECs included lack of membership diversity, scarcity of resources, insufficient training of members, inadequate capacity to review and monitor studies, and lack of national ethics guidelines and accreditation. Relatively little data on the review outcomes of African RECs were described. There is an ongoing need for concerted efforts from various stakeholders to support capacity development and enhancement of African RECs.

Keywords: Africa; RECs; functioning; outcomes; research ethics committees; structure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara
  • Biomedical Research / education
  • Biomedical Research / ethics*
  • Capacity Building
  • Ethical Review*
  • Ethics Committees, Research*
  • Ethics, Research
  • Humans