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Call for better benefits for R&D volunteers
  • Call for better benefits for R&D volunteers

Copyright: Caroline Penn/Panos

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  • Researchers in Uganda say R&D volunteers’ benefits need to be put in monetary terms

  • But they argue that compensations ought to be context-specific

  • They also call for medical insurance cover for volunteers

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[KAMPALA] As more African communities participate in health research, some scientists are now calling for volunteers’ compensations — especially among vulnerable communities — to be put in monetary terms.
 
They argue that compensations for African research participants need to be advertised in monetary terms as is done in developed countries.  
 
Most health research volunteers in Africa are among the poor, vulnerable populations such as refugees, commercial sex workers, women, yet researchers often ride above their consent without compensating them well.

“If you are researching about malaria give each [volunteer] a mosquito bednet to prevent it. Sensitise the community about the health condition and what should be done.”

Martin Ogwang, Lacor Hospital Institutional Research Ethics Committee, Uganda


Henry Tumwijukye, the director of Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development in Uganda, says African researchers should address the issue of compensation because it is “grossly unfair”.
 
He was speaking at the 7th Annual National Research Ethics Conference organised by the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST) from 7-8 July in Kampala themed understanding vulnerabilities in research.
 
In Uganda, the UNCST, which sets the research ethics standards, has guidelines that spell out the roles and responsibilities of manufacturers, sponsors and investigators in research conducts involving human subjects.
 
Participants are entitled to a transport refund, refreshments and meals during visits as well as standard medical care or in some instances medical insurance cover for the duration of the study and thereafter, according to Tumwijukye. They also have to be compensated for research-related injuries and costs. But this does not always happen.
 
“Participants spend a whole day and they pay for transportation,” said Tumwijukye, adding that it is in the interest of Africans to have medical insurance cover for the duration of the study and thereafter if necessary.
 
In Uganda transport refund varies according to the location of the study while Rwanda has a uniform fee of $10 per participant, says Jean-Baptiste Mazarati, the head of Rwanda Biomedical Center’s National Reference Laboratory. 
 
Mazarati told SciDev.Net that his country demands that if it is multi-site trial, benefits medical cover given in the other sites such as in South Africa must also be given to their participants, although there are exemptions.
 
He said they usually turn away study proposals that do not complement what the Ministry of Health is doing.
 
 
Julius Ecuru, the assistant executive secretary at UNCST, said that compensation cannot be standardised because it is difficult. “It is contextual,” he explained.
“It should not be like they are paying a salary. Research is expensive," Ecuru said. “If we think the compensation is too much we ask them to reduce it.”
 
Stephen Oola head of the Refugee Law Project at Makerere University in Uganda, suggested that the compensation should account for volunteers’ means of livelihoods such as how much money a volunteer who sells vegetables could make in a day.
 
Martin Ogwang, the chair of Lacor Hospital Institutional Research Ethics Committee in Uganda, said there’s always a direct benefit to the community.
 
“If you are researching about malaria give each [volunteer] a mosquito bednet to prevent it. Sensitise the community about the health condition and what should be done,” Ogwang noted.
 
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.
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