Background: Clinical trials conducted in Africa often require substantial investments to support trial centres and public health facilities. Trial resources could potentially generate benefits for routine health service delivery but may have unintended consequences. Strengthening ethical practice requires understanding the potential effects of trial inputs on the perceptions and practices of routine health care providers. This study explores the influence of malaria vaccine trials on health service delivery in Ghana, Kenya and Burkina Faso.
Methods: We conducted: audits of trial inputs in 10 trial facilities and among 144 health workers; individual interviews with frontline providers (n=99) and health managers (n=14); and group discussions with fieldworkers (n=9 discussions). Descriptive summaries were generated from audit data. Qualitative data were analysed using a framework approach.
Results: Facilities involved in trials benefited from infrastructure and equipment upgrades, support with essential drugs, access to trial vehicles, and placement of additional qualified trial staff. Qualified trial staff in facilities were often seen as role models by their colleagues; assisting with supportive supervision and reducing facility workload. Some facility staff in place before the trial also received formal training and salary top-ups from the trials. However, differential access to support caused dissatisfaction, and some interviewees expressed concerns about what would happen at the end of the trial once financial and supervisory support was removed.
Conclusion: Clinical trials function as short-term complex health service delivery interventions in the facilities in which they are based. They have the potential to both benefit facilities, staff and communities through providing the supportive environment required for improvements in routine care, but they can also generate dissatisfaction, relationship challenges and demoralisation among staff. Minimising trial related harm and maximising benefits requires careful planning and engagement of key actors at the outset of trials, throughout the trial and on its' completion.