19 February 2013

Tanzania: NIMR Records Increased Research Proposals

THE National Institute of Medical Health (NIMR) is seeing an increase in the number of research proposals in the past years largely due to the good work being done by the national health research ethics review committee.

The NIMR Senior Research Scientist Head, Ms Joyce Ikingura, told the 'Daily News' that in 2002, they received 54 proposals but the number had soared to over 200 in 2010.

"Apart from the evolving nature of health problems in our society today, the establishment of the National Health Research Ethics Review Committee (NatHREC) in 2002 has also led to this increase," she explained.

Echoing these sentiments, the NIMR Director General, Dr Mwele Malecela, said during the opening of a five- day training workshop of proposal reviewers for NatHREC members that the committee has made a lot of difference.

Dr Malecela noted that until 2012, the committee had been able to have Material and Data Transfer Agreements for the exportation of samples and data, soon to open zonal centres in Mbeya and Mwanza as well as supported institutional review boards and capacity building for local researchers.

"Also let me salute you for your tireless efforts and guidance in the development of guidelines for insurance of study participants in clinical trials and revision of standard operating procedures in addressing the burden in ethical conduct," she said.

Dr Malecela expressed her delight to learn that the reviewers would be trained on the usage of improved tools as only one tool had been used since the 1990s and was uniform of all kinds of proposed health research, and would be taught specifically for humanities, biomedical, clinical trials and observational research.

The NIMR Director of Research Coordination and Promotion and who is also the Secretary of the Committee, Dr Julius Massaga, said that by receiving many research proposals means that it's more work for the reviewers and due to the influx it had meant more delays in issuing permits.

Dr Massaga said that whilst the number of proposals had increased, the size of the team remained the same and that it was proving to be a challenge though this was being reduced by going digital. He said that the current biggest hurdle they were facing was from NGOs who start up shop without clearly stating what their activities will be and a lot of times end up carrying out researches with permits which are not recognized internationally.

"We are currently in dialogue with the Tanzania NGO Association to get to the bottom of this because it is a huge headache. We are also now assisting local researchers to register their studies and have copy rights such that in case they find something else, they are protected," he said.

A social scientist from the Ifakara Health Institute, Ms Sally Mtenga, said that increased research activities had also meant more help than ever particularly in contemporary society for the potentiality to subject people under the risk of manipulation and mistreatment.

Ms Mtenga said that there was need to strengthen strategic ethical approaches which need to be adhered to, so as to minimize potential risks and manipulation of study community.

She advocated for the formation of Community Advisory Boards (CABs) that are composed of community members who share common identity, history, symbols, language and culture. CABs act as a go between the researchers and the people being researched for their protection as well as their dignity.

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