Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic forced governments, multilateral public health organisations and research institutions to undertake research quickly to inform their responses to the pandemic. Most COVID-19-related studies required swift approval, creating ethical and practical challenges for regulatory authorities and researchers. In this paper, we examine the landscape of ethics review processes in Africa during public health emergencies (PHEs). METHODS: We searched four electronic databases (Web of Science, PUBMED, MEDLINE Complete, and CINAHL) to identify articles describing ethics review processes during public health emergencies and/or pandemics. We selected and reviewed those articles that were focused on Africa. We charted the data from the retrieved articles including the authors and year of publication, title, country and disease(s) reference, broad areas of (ethical) consideration, paper type, and approach. RESULTS: Of an initial 4536 records retrieved, we screened the titles and abstracts of 1491 articles, and identified 72 articles for full review. Nine articles were selected for inclusion. Of these nine articles, five referenced West African countries including Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and experiences linked to the Ebola virus disease. Two articles focused on South Africa and Kenya, while the other two articles discussed more general experiences and pitfalls of ethics review during PHEs in Africa more broadly. We found no articles published on ethics review processes in Africa before the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and only a few before the COVID-19 outbreak. Although guidelines on protocol review and approval processes for PHEs were more frequently discussed after the 2014 Ebola outbreak, these did not focus on Africa specifically. CONCLUSIONS: There is a gap in the literature about ethics review processes and preparedness within Africa during PHEs. This paper underscores the importance of these processes to inform practices that facilitate timely, context-relevant research that adequately recognises and reinforces human dignity within the quest to advance scientific knowledge about diseases. This is important to improve fast responses to PHEs, reduce mortality and morbidity, and enhance the quality of care before, during, and after pandemics.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Med Ethics

Publication Date





COVID-19, Ebola virus disease, Ethics review, Pandemic research, Public health emergency, Research ethics committee, Scoping review, Sub-saharan Africa, Humans, COVID-19, Public Health, SARS-CoV-2, Africa, Pandemics, Emergencies, Ethical Review, Betacoronavirus, Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola, Coronavirus Infections, Ethics, Research