Dr Paulina Tindana, Senior Lecturer and Bioethicist at the University of Ghana School of Public Health, says community engagement must be included into scientific research from beginning to end for successful outcomes.
Community engagement as an art and science, she stated, helped to build on indigenous knowledge and created an innovative means in demystifying and communicating research on genomics.
She said this at a close-out meeting on Community Engagement for Genomics and Biobanking in Africa (CEBioGen) Final Project Consortium in Accra, supported by the National Human Genome Research Institute and the National Institutes of Health.
The project was conducted in five countries-Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania – to investigate the role of community engagement in genomic research and biobanking in sub-Saharan Africa.
The project in Ghana is implemented by the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR), University of Ghana, and the University of Ghana School of Public Health.
It is to identify best practices for feeding back genetic findings to individuals, groups, and communities and strengthen capacities in ethics within the H3Africa Consortium by providing short and long-term training opportunities on ethics.
Some scientific study fields, according to her, were complex to communicate to communities, therefore when community members were not included, the research may not be effective.
Dr Tindana said to be able to conduct research, it was necessary for researchers to seek the consent of the participants for effective engagement.
“If community members do not understand what their data or samples are going to be used for, the consent will not be valid. Information is one of the key elements of valid consent,” she said.
Dr Tindana said because there were a lot of complexities related to genetics research, the Institute set out to understand the keyways Science could be conveyed.
“Community engagement is the only way to effectively inform the public about the need for the collection of human biological samples for research and avoid misconceptions,” she stressed.
Professor Dorothy Yeboah-Manu, Director of NMIMR, said the project served as a means of training PhD and Masters students and contributed to the creation of a new Master in Bioethics programme at the University of Ghana, School of Public Health.
Prof Yeboah-Manu urged the researchers to develop new ideas and fresh energy to improve on the findings that were uncovered by the project.