Brussels, 04 April 2002
Africa needs more international support in conducting clinical trials as the number carried out currently is insufficient in considering the prevalence of disease in the region, according to a team of Greek and South African researchers. The call comes shortly after the Commission announced a new programme to boost the clinical development of drugs to tackle AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, which will explore a new relationship between Africa and the EU.
'Demand is increasing for research to be prioritised according to the importance of health issues,' write Petros Isaakidis et al in their paper, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
This demand was recognised during the early stages of the planning for the European Union's Sixth Framework programme on research and development (FP6).
The original proposal for the first thematic priority area one, 'Genomics and biotechnology for health', had two sub-headings added, namely 'Advanced genomics and its applications for health' and 'Combating major diseases', which have been allocated a budget of 1,150 million euro and 1,050 million euro respectively.
The Commission has emphasised its wish to fund research into communicable diseases, which are particularly prolific in Africa, and has proposed dedicating 200 million euro to the European-developing countries clinical trials programme (EDCTP) in FP6.
'Most African countries cannot afford to support medical research. In addition, the pharmaceutical industry may be reluctant to sponsor trials in the developing world because the prospects for profit are limited, even if effective treatments are developed,' states the research paper. Seemingly expensive interventions can become affordable if there is strong political will and collaboration with the industry,' continue the researchers. 'The area needs more international support, but this should be provided without fostering just another form of colonisation. African researchers should have a meaningful say in setting research priorities, and outside support should help develop sustainable local research capacity.'
The researchers used information from a database of randomised controlled trials in sub-Saharan Africa in order to assess whether or not the amount of randomised clinical research on various medical conditions is related to the burden of disease (the gap between a population's actual health status and an ideal or reference status) and health needs of the local populations in the region.
The study found that almost half of clinical trials in sub-Saharan Africa had been conducted in South Africa, with four countries accounting for another quarter (Nigeria, Kenya, Gambia, Tanzania). Only 19 countries had more than one trial per million citizens.
Overall, the researchers found a good correlation between the burden of disease and the number of clinical trials being conducted, although the amount of research was higher in relation to some diseases than others.
'Despite an overall good correlation between the amount of randomised research and burden of disease, some conditions have been neglected,' write the researchers.
To see the full research paper, please consult the following web address: http:///bmj.com/cgi/content/full/324/733 9/702