Reducing risks to research integrity and conflicts of interest in public health research funding in Africa
Industry-funded research, when conducted transparently and without interference, has led to important scientific contributions. However, private sector- or industry-funded research can be problematic if commercial interests are at odds with development goals. Researchers in developing countries can be particularly vulnerable to conflict of interest due to increasing pressures to pursue funding opportunities and partnerships with the private sector.
Several studies have shown industry-funded research in fields such as public health and nutrition have been selected, designed, or have generated results that have a bias in favour of the funder’s commercial interests. These studies attribute this “funding-effect” to conflict of interest, which can negatively affect the integrity and objectivity of research and undermine overall research quality. Its impact can have serious and far-reaching consequences, such as reputational damage to researchers and research institutions, or even putting human research subjects at risk.
Science granting councils and ethics review committees in research institutes and universities could serve as gatekeepers for managing, reducing, or eliminating conflicts of interest in research proposals and projects they engage with as part of their mandates. The goal of this project is to strengthen the capacities of science granting councils and ethics review committees to protect public health research by equipping them with resources such as an e-learning module and a toolkit for managing conflicts of interest. This work will be implemented over 24 months with science granting councils and ethics review committees in West Africa, eastern Africa, and southern Africa.
This project is funded through the Science Granting Councils Initiative in sub-Saharan Africa (SGCI), a multi-donor initiative developed jointly by IDRC, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, and South Africa’s National Research Foundation. Since its inception in 2015, SGCI has been strengthening the capacities of science granting councils in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Two new cross-cutting dimensions, namely research excellence and gender equality and inclusivity, have recently been added to the Initiative. As part of the SGCI’s second phase, funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and IDRC will provide grants to each council, enabling them to manage research competitions and related activities in areas aligned with their national research agendas.