Scientists converge on UNIOSUN to discuss bioethical standard
Sunday Omeike, PhD., FASLN
Researchers in the biomedical field gathered at the Olagunsoye Oyinlola auditorium of Osun State University (UNIOSUN) in Osogbo to discuss the past and present of ethical standards in biomedical research, while also charting a course for future scientists in attendance.
The melting pot was a free workshop held on Tuesday, 17th of November, to inform biomedical researchers how they could become bioethically certified. The facilitators also shared experiences and opinions on how this standard can be maintained while in the field or laboratory.
Convened by Dr. Olabanji Surakat and ably supported by Prof. Monsuru Adeleke, both parasitologists at the Department of Zoology, UNIOSUN, have been working tirelessly to eliminate neglected tropical diseases alongside their mentor, Prof. Sammy Sam-Wobo of the Department of Pure and Applied Zoology, Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, who was also present as speaker at the event.
Organized in the context of Neglected tropical diseases and Communicable diseases, the workshop was made possible via a grant from University of Oxford’s The Global Health Network (TGHN), and Prof. Adeleke opened plenary with a broad explanation of why ethics are paramount in biomedical studies.
Dr. Muhammed Rufai, head of the institution’s Department of Zoology, in his welcome address had stated that ethical discussions in biological disciplines are ripe, citing globalization of research.
“With many research activities now taking place on a global dimension, it is imperative to discuss positive approaches towards inculcating best research integrity practices. This includes examining the role of good clinical/laboratory practice and ethical standards in setting the standards for research integrity.”
This set the tone for later speeches by Professors Olusola Ojurongbe and Christopher Alebiosu, who recounted a gruesome past that birthed regularly updated ethical standards. They also reiterated that presence and adherence to ethical standard would save biological researchers from professional embarrassments.
“Ethics is doing what is right and doing it rightly,” Prof. Ojurongbe stated. “Everyone is responsible for good research ethics and if an investigator’s methods have not been checked by an ethics board, it could lead to irreversible harm,” the Professor of Medical Parasitology at College of Health Sciences, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Akure added.
Prof. Adeleke, a Public Health Entomology and Parasitology expert, spoke about the need for bioethics certification and standard to guide scientists who unknowingly violate ethics.
“Bioethics, though closely related to medical ethics, is a broad area that deals with several living things. And when a biomedical scientist is conducting research, every living thing must be respected and whatever would be done to such organism must be in line with standards.
“Sometimes scientists do violate ethics not because they mean to, but carelessness creeps in. Therefore, there is need for a standard that will regulate their activities.”
These submissions led to plenary discussion on what should be the punishment, aside article withdrawal, for academia breaching ethical standards, and Prof. Alebiosu argued that appropriate professional bodies should stand up to punish erring members.
All participants at the workshop
“It is very straightforward, if you breach ethics the ethical approval should be withdrawn. Further, every professional body is operating under particular laws and would have their own regulations and sanctioning bodies and they should deal with such scientist. If the punishment is not weighty enough then the court of law can be approached.”
Prof. Sam-Wobo, citing field scenarios and need to convince opinion leaders and educated illiterates in communities, discussed implications of poor ethical knowledge on a community approach and acceptance thereof. He concluded that communities could become hostile erring investigators, an outcome that could affect future scientists trying to enter such communities.
“It is not enough to go through the internal review board, the principal investigator should go and engage with the community appropriately. If not done, the investigators would be disappointed and driven away.
“For effective community participation, we must endeavour to inform the community before the study, allow them follow progress during and share research findings after the study.”
Warning participants that bioethics does not end in the field, Prof. Sunday Akinde further added that the laboratory also needs standard operational and ethical guides for trustworthy research outcomes.
“There is the need for standard operational practices and ethical conduct in the laboratory because test results change peoples’ lives and the goal is to produce quality results,” Prof. Akinde stated.
Dr. Surakat, who took the training session on how to become a University of Oxford certified bioethics-compliant researcher via TGHN’s online resources, later sat for further discussion where he acknowledged Nigeria’s competent and coordinated national, state, institutional and local ethical boards. He however charged Nigerian academia to take a leading role at the forefront of bioethical compliance.
“The academia is the frontiers of research in Nigeria and as such, we should be concerned about appropriate regulatory approval for the purpose of quality, integrity and reproducibility. It thus makes a lot of sense to pursue proper bioethical standards so that future researchers would not fall into problems because research will not end.
“Although we have competent boards, researchers are yet to take full advantage of what an ethics committee and being ethically certified brings to research. If they do not understand bioethics and its importance, then they would apply research methods wrongly in areas of community mobilization, participation, justice and equity, and also benefits and reproducibility of the research could be lost.”
He further advised that academia should target future researchers for bioethical knowledge and compliance by incorporating the discussion in postgraduate curriculum, while also adding that the workshop could become an annual event.