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Open Access Research article

Capacity mapping of national ethics committees in the Eastern Mediterranean Region

Alaa Abou-Zeid1, Mohammad Afzal1 and Henry J Silverman2*

Author affiliations

1 Research Policy and Cooperation Unit, Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office of the World Health Organization, Cairo, Egypt

2 University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Medical Ethics 2009, 10:8  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-10-8

Published: 4 July 2009

Abstract

Background

Ethics issues in the areas of science, technology and medicine have emerged during the last few decades. Many countries have responded by establishing ethics committees at the national level. Identification of National Ethics Committees (NECs) in the Eastern Mediterranean (EM) region and the extent of their functions and capacity would be helpful in developing capacity building programs that address the needs of these committees. Accordingly, we conducted a survey to determine the characteristics of existing NECs in the EM region.

Methods

We developed a questionnaire to collect information on different aspects of NECs. The questionnaire was sent to the WHO country office in each of the 22 Member States in the EM region. We used descriptive statistics to analyze the data.

Results

We obtained responses from 77% (17/22) of the EM countries; 88% (15/17) of the countries stated they had NECs. Of these NECs, 40% (6/15) were involved in the ethics of science and technology, 73% (11/15) in medical ethics, and 93% (14/15) in medical research ethics; 10 NECs stated they reviewed research protocols. Of the respondent NECs, 25% (4/15) met at least on a monthly basis. Regarding training, 21% of the members from all of the NECs had received formal training in ethics; 53% (8/15) of the NECs had none of their members with formal training in ethics. Regarding support, 33% (5/15) received financial support and 60% (9/15) had administrative support.

Conclusion

While many countries in the EM region report the existence of NECs, many meet infrequently, many have members without formal training in ethics, and many lack important financial and administrative resources. Further efforts should be directed towards capacity building programs that include ethics training and provision of important infrastructure resources for these committees.