Research Ethics Challenges in Developing Countries: SciDev Net Reports

Ethics and regulations are still lagging behind as pharmaceutical companies increase their research in developing countries.  This commentary was reported at the 7th World Conference of Science Journalists, held at the end of June in Qatar. For example, by 2008, the number of clinical trials tripled in underdeveloped countries compared to the period between 1948 and 2000.  However, the process of putting in place a legal and ethical framework to protect participants is not going at the same pace in many of the countries in the developing world.

The developing countries permit such trials in the hope to access recent medical sciences and drugs. For pharmaceutical companies, trials are less costly and patients are treatment naïve which make them ideal research subjects.   Also, according to Dr Ames Dhai, the Director of  the Steve Biko Center for Bioethics in South Africa, ‘Less stringent ethical review, anticipated under-reporting of side effects, and the lower risk of litigation make carrying out research in the developing world less demanding’.

Countries such as South Africa and India have populations that are poor, illiterate and rarely question authority,  which make them vulnerable to ethical transgressions. Research ethicists in developing countries claim that international sponsors and researchers adopt an imperialistic attitude towards local reviews and in many instances ignore them.

Dhai emphasized the need for symbiotic relation between pharmaceutical companies and local communities with equal share of benefits and proper safeguard of research subjects. If this could be attained then developing countries would benefit greatly of improved local skills and the development of some aspects of their health care systems.

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Ethics left behind as drug trials soar in developing countries

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