Gurus and Griots: Revisiting the research informed consent process in rural African contexts

Gurus and Griots: Revisiting the research informed consent process in rural African contexts
Debate
Richard Appiah
BMC Medical Ethics, 23 July 2021; 22(98)
Open Access
Abstract
Background
Researchers conducting community-based participatory action research (CBPAR) in highly collectivistic and socioeconomically disadvantaged community settings in sub-Saharan Africa are confronted with the distinctive challenge of balancing universal ethical standards with local standards, where traditional customs or beliefs may conflict with regulatory requirements and ethical guidelines underlying the informed consent (IC) process. The unique ethnic, socioeconomic, and cultural diversities in these settings have important implications for the IC process, such as individual decisional autonomy, beneficence, confidentiality, and signing the IC document.
Main text
Drawing on insights and field observations from conducting CBPARs across several rural, highly communal, low literate, and low-income communities in Ghana, we discuss some theoretical, ethico-cultural, and methodological challenges associated with applying the universal, Western individualistic cultural value-laden IC process in sub-Saharan Africa. By citing field situations, we discuss how local cultural customs and the socioeconomic adversities prevalent in these settings can influence (and disrupt) the information disclosure process, individual decisional authority for consent, and voluntariness. We review the theoretical assumptions of the Declaration of Helsinki’s statement on IC and discuss its limitations as an ultimate guide for the conduct of social science research in the highly communal African context. We argue that the IC process in these settings should include strategies directed at preventing deception and coercion, in addition to ensuring respect for individual autonomy. We urge Universities, research institutions, and institutional review boards in Africa to design and promote the use of context-appropriate ethical IC guidelines that take into consideration both the local customs and traditional practices of the people as well as the scientific principles underpinning the universal IC standards.
Conclusion
We recommend that, rather than adopt a universal one-size-fits-all IC approach, researchers working in the rural, highly collectivistic, low literate, socioeconomically disadvantaged settings of sub-Saharan Africa should deeply consider the roles and influence of cultural values and traditional practices on the IC and the research process. We encourage researchers to collaborate with target communities and stakeholders in the design and implementation of context-appropriate IC to prevent ethics dumping and safeguard the integrity of the research process.

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