The Legume Centre of Excellence for Food and Nutrition Security (LCEFoNS) organized a weeklong workshop on ethical guidelines for researchers drawn from various academic disciplines at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).
The workshop held from 31 July – 4 August aimed to sensitize students and staff on research ethics, procedures, and responsibilities, and enhance the culture of working with Institutional Ethical Review Committees (IERCs) to implement research that does not violate the rights of study participants.
The Principal, COANRE, Prof. Daniel Sila, who is also the Project Coordinator, LCEFoNS explained the importance of research in the development of society, noting that it is important to undertake research that promotes and considers the welfare of the participants.
He appreciated VLIR-UOS for supporting the workshop, and hailed the collaboration of COANRE with other colleges within JKUAT including; Health Sciences (COHES), Pure and Applied Sciences (COPAS) as well as Human Resources and Enterprise Development (COHRED) in ensuring the workshop acquired a multidisciplinary character in terms of approach and insights.
The workshop was spearheaded by Dr. Florence Kyallo, Senior Lecturer in Human Nutrition Sciences Department (HNS) and Project Leader of Legumes in Nutrition and Health, one of the four projects currently funded by LCEFoNS.
The 36 participants including postgraduate students at Masters and Ph.D levels as well as staff routinely conducting research involving humans and/or animals, were trained by facilitators from IERC at JKUAT, African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF), as well as Scientists from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI).
The opening presentation by Dr. Beatrice Kiage, a Senior Lecturer at HNS, focused on vulnerable groups such as children who feature prominently in nutrition studies. She said it was vital to establish ethical guidelines at the onset of the research so as to determine appropriate levels of risk, manage conflict of interest and therefore navigate dilemmas related to such populations.
These populations are individuals at a higher risk of harm and exploitation due to their limited capacity to make informed decisions. Some of these include pregnant women who face unique risks that may affect them and their unborn child and therefore require full disclosure for their consent, the mentally ill who may get emotional distress, and prisoners who have restricted autonomy and potential for coercion.
Similarly, Dr. Amos Mbugua, Senior Lecturer and Chairperson, Department of Medical Lab Sciences, emphasized the importance of prioritizing, planning, and thinking through the ethical guidelines, noting that they serve as a guide in determining the research design of the study and should not be treated as an afterthought to satisfy the requirements of the Ethics Review Board for approval.
According to Prof. Mohammed Karama of AMREF, there has been an increase in clinical studies driven by the growing number of individuals experiencing multiple health conditions attributed to climate change. These studies focus on exploring novel medications aimed at decreasing hospitalization and medication dependency. However, Prof. Karama highlighted that these clinical studies are accompanied by a range of ethical concerns.
“Every clinical study must go through the Pharmacy and Poisons Board of Kenya, as well as the Institutional Ethics Review Board which determines if the drugs to be administered will cause any harm. Those engaging in this type of research must be qualified, and must have the appropriate equipment for trials,” explained Prof. Karama.
According to him, research participants must be informed of the risks and given enough time to read through and process what the study is about. Further, the adverse effects must be documented, and in case of severe reactions, the study should be stopped.
Participants were taken through the ethical guidelines governing research involving animals. Dr. John Kagira, Dean of the School of Natural Resources Animal Sciences, and Dr. Maina Ngotho from the Department of Animal Sciences emphasized the necessity of utilizing suitable animal species like mice, while strictly forbidding the use of animals such as cats, dogs, monkeys, or captured wild animals.
Their presentations highlighted lab animal care and use which entails proper planning of animal procurement and transportation to secured enclosures to allow social interactions and ease animal distress so as not to affect the results in the experimental data records.
KEMRI scientists expounded on the importance of safety in handling lab samples during transport, and using the right equipment while ensuring that safety regulations developed by designated agencies are adhered to.
The workshop participants also visited JKUAT’s Small Animal Facility for Research and Innovation (SAFARI).
Prof. Waweru Mwangi from the School of Computing discussed the ethical challenges presented by technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI), while Ms. Muthoni Mwangi shed light on how to avoid legal pitfalls.