The 13th World Congress of Bioethics begins tomorrow. This biennial conference is the largest gathering of bioethics thought-leaders in the world, and will this year explore “Individuals, Public Interests and Public Goods: What is the Contribution of Bioethics?” by bringing international academics, practitioners and experts together in Edinburgh, Scotland.
In support of the bioethics community, Wiley is honored to sponsor a bursary for Dr. Mary Kasule, Assistant Director of Research Ethics at the University of Botswana.
Originally from Uganda, Dr. Kasule completed her PhD in Public Health in 2014 with a focus on research ethics and parental informed consent protocol at the University of the Western Cape. Since then, she has held many roles and achievements, including: Secretary to the Botswana National Research Ethics Committee at the Ministry of Health and Research Officer at the Council on Health Research for Development.
Recently, Dr. Kasule published an article with Douglas R. Waasenaar (Fogarty grand award recipient), Carel Ijsselmuiden, and Boitumelo Mokgatla titled, “Silent voices: Current and future roles of African research ethics committee administrators.” The paper, published by The Hastings Center journal IRB: Ethics & Human Research, discusses findings of the first empirical study conducted specifically on the roles, responsibilities, and potential of administrators for African research ethics committees.
We caught up with Dr. Kasule before her trip to discuss her extensive work in bioethics, and what she hopes to see at the World Congress of Bioethics.
FN: We are honored to sponsor your trip to Edinburgh, Dr. Kasule. Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. First, what sparked your interest in bioethics and public health?
MK: The courses that I took during my Bachelor of Science in Botany and Zoology and Masters in Applied Food Microbiology, as well as my teaching of Anatomy and Physiology, introduced me to most of the components of public health. To be honest, after over 20 years of lecturing at various tertiary health training institutions I felt I needed a change to specialize into something that could embrace my education background and experience gained. I saw studying public health as a gateway to a diversity of carrier opportunities and growth.
My research methodology course with a component of bioethics during my Masters in Public Health training gave me an insight into the importance of bioethics and responsible conduct of research. I also got an opportunity to work as the Secretary for the Botswana Ministry of Health National Ethics Committee (EC). By listening to EC deliberations, I came to realize the importance of good knowledge of bioethics for EC members in moral reasoning, risk/benefit analysis, and decision making. This further motivated me to find opportunities for long-term training in bioethics. I was very lucky to be awarded a scholarship by National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study for a Post Graduate Diploma in International Bioethics. This training also introduced me to research ethics administration – a new, emerging field in research ethics.
FN: What current project of yours are you most excited about?
MK: I am currently serving as the University of Botswana’s coordinator for the Fogarty African Bioethics Consortium, which was started in 2013 by the Johns Hopkins-Fogarty African Bioethics Training Program through a grant by the NIH. Under the leadership of Prof. Nancy Kass and Prof. Adnan Hyder, the project aims to create a sustainable and viable institutional bioethics consortium. The consortium seeks to advance institutional capacities to promote and pursue bioethics and research ethics activities, including training, bioethics research, bench marking and publishing and service. Through this collaboration, over ten University of Botswana Institutional Review Board members have been trained in bioethics at Johns Hopkins, greatly improving the board’s structure and function. I am hopeful that this collaborative initiative will be extended to other sub-Saharan countries to gradually harmonize their research ethics review processes.
FN: Your bio is quite impressive! From your extensive career in health, what do you think are the biggest public health priorities for Botswana today?
MK: I would say 1) gaining epidemiologic control of HIV with successful implementation of Treat All, 2) strengthening health systems (improved monitoring and evaluation), supply chain management, quality service delivery), 3) rational human resource allocations, mentorship, and capacity building, and 4) integration of comprehensive health service delivery (such as HIV, sexual and reproductive health, tuberculosis, and non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancers).
FN: The World Congress of Bioethics will have attendees from quite diverse backgrounds. What unique perspective do you hope to share with others, and vice versa?
MK: I would like to share experiences and challenges with people involved in research ethics administration regarding building research ethics capacity in their countries, and discuss the present and future of bioethics.
FN: Are there any panels you’re looking forward to seeing? Any people you’re hoping to meet?
MK: Dr. Sarah Chan from the Usher Institute for Population Health Sciences and Informatics, University of Edinburgh. She will be chairing a symposium on ‘Exploring International Policy Development in Regenerative Medicine’ and a panel session considering ‘Socio-Ethical and Legal (ELSI) Implications of Genome Editing Technologies.’
I am currently a member of the Ethics Working Group on the Human Health and Heredity initiative aimed at facilitating a contemporary research approach to the study of genomics and environmental determinants of common diseases with the goal of improving the health of African populations. The group aims to develop a robust and supportive ethical and governance framework for genomic research in Africa, and I hope the symposium and panel will inform this work.
I would also like to meet participants working on Informed Consent, like Dr. Danielle Bromwich (Assistant Professor of Bioethics and Metaethics at University of Massachusetts Boston) and Dr. Ana Krivokuca (Institute for Oncology and Radiology of Serbia).
FN: Congratulations on your recently published paper, “Silent Voices: Current and Future Roles of African Research Ethics Committee Administrators”! How will your findings carry over into the World Congress of Bioethics? How do you hope your research will impact bioethics and public health as a whole?
MK: The paper falls under one of this year’s themes: Public Health, Ethics and Law. Effective and efficient ethics reviews are a result of good research ethics administration by well-trained research ethics administrators. The paper emphasizes the need for sub-Saharan African Ethics Committees to have these administrators manage committee operations and implement review administration with explicit focus so that committees achieve their goal – conducting high-quality, timely, and responsible ethics review. Ultimately, this translates into evidence-based policies and decisions for health care services at both individual and population level.
I hope that implementation of this paper’s recommendations would capacitate ethics committees in sub-regions and ultimately in sub-Saharan Africa. This would lead to a tremendous improvement in ethics review process and to harmonization of ethics review processes and practices in the regions and Africa as a whole, thus improvement of the effectiveness and efficiency of ethics committees. The result would be timely reviews that allow conducting research to improve timeliness of public health interventions, health services delivery, health care policies and decision making. And, this could cut down on waste of resources from delayed reviews and loss of funding which depends on timely review of proposals.
FN: Thank you. We wish you safe travels and look forward to speaking upon your return.
This bursary is sponsored by Wiley on behalf of its bioethics journals.
Read the latest in bioethics from your peers around the world, and submit your paper today. Click on the journals below to access groundbreaking research in an increasingly relevant, ever-evolving field, and check back here soon for a post on Dr. Kasule’s top bioethics article picks!