HSDM to Lead Program in Rwanda on Ethics Training in Health Research

July 19, 2016
HSDM to Lead Program in Rwanda on Ethics Training in Health Research

By Ellen Garnett
Dr. Bernard Friedland, assistant professor in Oral Medicine, Infection and Immunity, recently received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Fogarty International Center Award for his research project, “Development Initiative for Ethical Review and Oversight of Health Research Involving Human Subjects in Rwanda.”

Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) was one of four colleges to receive NIH grants for projects which will foster global health research. HSDM’s Dr. Friedland will lead the project as Principal Investigator to pursue an international collaboration with the University of Rwanda. Through this partnership, the goal is to establish in Rwanda a “self-sustaining, well-functioning national system of ethical review in [health research] within five years,” according to the abstract.

“We don’t want to impose the American system on them,” said Dr. Friedland. In fact, Rwanda is already recognized as a healthcare leader in the region with its initiative to organize a universal healthcare system. According to Dr. Friedland, a national system of ethical review would allow low and middle income countries (LMICs) like Rwanda to become more independent of Western influence by being able to respond to their own research needs.

In recent years, Rwanda has established a National Ethics Committee (NEC) and has various Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) to monitor human research. The project, which is in partnership with the Human Resources for Health (HRH) consortium, intends to build upon the ethics training in both the U.S. and Rwanda to design standards for an autonomous system of ethical review.

According to the project’s abstract, the aim is to train 140 Rwandan researchers to:

1) conduct ethically responsible research, 2) become research ethics trainers of the next generation, 3) develop, implement and monitor ethics review policies and procedures, and 4) become the leaders who shape research ethics education, policies and priorities for the nation and region. (Friedland, 2016, Abstract)

Dr. Friedland pointed out that there are certain diseases that are more prevalent in other parts of the world, such as the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Outbreaks such as this demonstrate the breadth of health disparities that require a system of ethics in research to protect already vulnerable populations.  

Dr. Friedland, who has a background in law as a dentist in the American College of Legal Medicine, will collaborate with two other key investigators on the project. They include Nir Eyal, PhD, associate professor of Global Health and Social Medicine at HMS; Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; and Program in Ethics and Health at Harvard University; and Aline Umubyeyi, MD, PhD, faculty researcher at the University of Rwanda College of Medicine and Health Sciences School of Public Health.

Work has already begun on recruiting Rwandan participants and on the development of curriculum for a one week course in September on ethics training.

Learn more about other ongoing HSDM projects in Rwanda.