Document Type



Paediatrics and Child Health (East Africa)


Background: International collaborators face challenges in the design and implementation of ethical biomedical research. Evaluating community understanding of research and processes like informed consent may enable researchers to better protect research participants in a particular setting; however, there exist few studies examining community perspectives in health research, particularly in resource-limited settings, or strategies for engaging the community in research processes. Our goal was to inform ethical research practice in a biomedical research setting in western Kenya and similar resource-limited settings.

Methods: We sought to use mabaraza, traditional East African community assemblies, in a qualitative study to understand community perspectives on biomedical research and informed consent within a collaborative, multinational research network in western Kenya. Analyses included manual, progressive coding of transcripts from Mabaraza to identify emerging central concepts.

Results: Our findings from two mabaraza with 108 community members revealed that, while participants understood some principles of biomedical research, they emphasized perceived benefits from participation in research over potential risks. Many community members equated health research with HIV testing or care, which may be explained in part by the setting of this particular study. In addition to valuing informed consent as understanding and accepting a role in research activities, participants endorsed an increased role for the community in making decisions about research participation, especially in the case of children, through a process of community consent.

Conclusions: Our study suggests that international biomedical research must account for community understanding of research and informed consent, particularly when involving children. Moreover, traditional community forums, such as mabaraza in East Africa, can be used effectively to gather these data and may serve as a forum to further engage communities in community consent and other aspects of research.


BMC Medical Ethics

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Pediatrics Commons