MSc. in Bioethics
As the Co-Principal Investigator and Ghana Lead of an NIH-funded project which aims to build sustainable research ethics and integrity capacity in Ghana, I am leading the effort to establish a Masters Program (MSc. in Bioethics) at the University of Ghana. Reproduced below (the program document) are what is motiving the initiative, the program aims, objectives, and collaboration.
The Need for the Program
There is currently no formal program of study in ethics or bioethics in Ghana. This means most of the about 18 Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)/Research Ethics Committees (RECs)/Ethics Review Committees (ERCs) in Ghana including those in the Ministry of Health and in the Universities have personnel with limited expertise in Bioethics. This limits the capacity of our IRBs to act effectively in a rapidly advancing global community of health research that impacts every citizen. Ghana cannot afford to lag in capacity-building of competencies for academics and research staff in Bioethics to ensure the rights, safety, and wellbeing of study participants. There is a great and urgent need for such a program that would help students and health professionals understand the moral, ethical, social and legal problems posed in health-care service delivery, and in all areas of health-related research including research to promote public health such as in the development and deployment of medicinal products in biomedicine including vaccines, medical genetics, and in the areas of life and social sciences.
As noted earlier, individuals serving on IRBs/RECs/ERCs must be conversant with and appreciate the ethical, legal, economic and social implications of advances in modern research in all these areas that impact health. Protecting the rights of individuals from abuse and harm by research conducted by investigators and their affiliates is a key objective of this graduate program. Therefore, this program must be of interest to all and especially to regulatory and licensing authorities such as the Food and Drugs Authority. Such bodies must be well resourced to be able to make informed decisions that would protect research participants, their communities, the nation and the global community. Ghana must have competent and well-qualified people to man independent ethics committees to review and approve research of national and international interest.
Another justification for the program is the need to protect volunteers who carry out assignments on behalf of research teams from being attacked and harmed by the public when there is misconception, miscommunication, or inadequate information about the value and risks of the research to the public. Furthermore, Ghana must build capacity for IRBs/RECs/ERCs to be able to ensure that investigators comply with approved protocols and standards and to monitor the benefits and risks during and after the research.
Consultations with relevant stakeholders including units from within the University of Ghana, other institutions of higher learning, the Ministry of Health and its agencies including the Ghana Health Services, the Teaching Hospitals; the Food and Drugs Authority, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the Ghana Standards Authority, and the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences reveal that there is high expectation and demand for this program.
The School of Public Health has a critical mass of bioethicists to offer this program successfully to meet national needs, besides the availability of experienced faculty from other departments of the University of Ghana and of international collaborators from New York University.
The main aim of this program is to produce high-calibre individuals who would ensure ethical implementation of public health interventions and ethical conduct of research
The objectives of the program are to:
- Ground students in historical, philosophical, legal, and social-scientific approaches to Bioethics
- Produce Bioethicists/Bioethics experts for health and health-related sectors in Ghana and in the West Africa sub-region and beyond.
- Build the needed capacity for proper functioning of the local ethics review committees
- Provide training in research integrity and in international research standards for Ghanaian and other nationals
- Develop institutional and national research ethics policies as well as propose amendments to legislations on research related to human health
This program is birthed out of our international collaboration with the New York University (NYU), NYU School of Medicine and the NYU College of Global Public Health. As a partner, the NYU is already providing technical and financial assistance for the development of this program through its Fogarty Funded NYU-UG Research Integrity Fellowship Programme. The UG and NYU are currently building local capacity in research ethics through their NYU-UG Research Integrity Fellowship Programme. Of 30 Fellows to be trained by 2023, six of them would be provided full scholarship to matriculate in the Master of Bioethics program at the NYU. Upon completion, these six graduates would be expected to contribute to the proposed MSc. program at the University of Ghana.