$1.1M Grant From Fogarty International Center to Enhance Research Ethics in Region
Dr. Cheryl Cox-Macpherson, Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation Senior Research Fellow, and Chair, SGU Bioethics Department, together with colleagues Dr. Sean Philpott of Union Graduate College in the United States and Dr. Robert Hall of Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro in Mexico, have been awarded a $1.1 million USD grant from the Fogarty International Center, National Institutes of Health, to increase research ethics capacity in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Dr. Cox-Macpherson has been selected to lead the “Caribbean Research Ethics Education Initiative (CREEi)”, a five-year initiative designed to increase the limited number of professionals trained in research ethics and research ethics education in the Caribbean basin. The program will develop and sustain a Caribbean cadre of graduate level teachers of research ethics; a Caribbean research ethics network; an English-speaking center of excellence in research ethics at SGU, and a Spanish-speaking center of excellence at UAQ. These centers of excellence will house related resources, technology, and expertise for use by program faculty, trainees, alumni, and others. Through relationships with national and international organizations, governments, and professional societies, the Program Directors will recruit promising candidates from the Caribbean. Those selected will become part of a ‘train the trainer’ process to ensure sustainability of the program.
“I’m excited about the opportunity for capacity building for research ethics in the region, and for being part of the partnerships and networks that emerge during the process,” Dr. Cox-Macpherson said. “Expertise in this topic is vital to protecting health in today’s world, and is also evidence of the ability to think rationally and objectively about other issues affecting Caribbean health and wellbeing.”
The recent growth in the number of clinical trials and other human subject research studies being conducted in the low- and middle-income countries that border the Caribbean basin illustrates the need to continue developing research ethics capacity and infrastructure.
“Failing to do so puts the 260 million residents of the region at risk, as their safety and rights as research subjects are likely to be compromised unless there is a robust system of regulatory review and oversight,” said Dr. Philpott.
Unfortunately, there are currently only a handful of regional programs that provide investigators, ethics committee members, and other stakeholders with the necessary training in bioethics and research ethics. Through this initiative, the three institutions will work together to train and support a cadre of fellows from the region to function independently or collectively as research ethicists, bioethics educators, and policy advocates.
The program will be managed by Dr. Philpott, while Dr. Hall will head up training for Caribbean Spanish-speaking trainees and Dr. Cox Macpherson for the Caribbean English-speaking trainees. The program is crafted to run sequentially, training students from a less to a more complex curriculum, which allows them to progress in their capabilities through distance learning and on-site modules that allow for maximum contact with minimum cost. Eventually, the initiative will become self-sustaining by transferring the training responsibilities to local institutions and faculty members.
This program is a natural evolution for WINDREF, which established one of the first Institutional Review Boards (IRB) in the region 20 years ago. In response to a rapid increase in research activity, St. George’s University took over the responsibility of the WINDREF IRB in 2002. It remains the only IRB in the region that is registered with the Office of Human Research Protections at the US Department of Health and Human Services.
The timing for a regional ethics initiative is ideal, as WINDREF has recently engaged in discussions about setting up a region-wide IRB with the Director of Research Training and Policy Development at the Caribbean Public Health Agency, Dr. Donald Simeon. Through these initiatives, we look forward to working with our partners to take the next step in promoting research in the Caribbean basin.