Enhancing quality and integrity in biomedical research in Africa: an international call for greater focus, investment and standardisation in capacity strengthening for frontline staff.
Participants of an International Workshop in Kenya on the Role of Frontline Staff in Biomedical Research, July 2014 None., Kombe F.
The integrity of biomedical research depends heavily on the quality of research data collected. In turn, data quality depends on processes of data collection, a task undertaken by frontline research staff in many research programmes in Africa and elsewhere. These frontline research staff often have additional responsibilities including translating and communicating research in local languages, seeking informed consent for study participation and maintaining supportive relationships between research institutions and study participants and wider communities. The level of skills that fieldworkers need to undertake these responsibilities clearly affects the quality of data collected, the ethics of research 'on the ground' and the short and long term acceptability of research.We organised an international workshop in Kenya in July 2014 to discuss the role of frontline staff in scientific research. A total of 25 field managers from 9 African countries and the UK met for 2.5 days to discuss the relationship between data quality and institutional performance management systems and how they affect career progression and supportive supervision policies of research frontline staff.From this workshop, and supporting an expanding literature on the role of fieldworkers in international health research, participants agreed that fieldworkers' roles present them with practical and ethical challenges that their routine training does not adequately prepare them for. We argue that the common and complex challenges facing fieldworkers should in part be addressed through increased investment and collaborative agreements across types of research institutions in Africa. We call for standardization of core elements of training for this critically important cadre of research staff who perform similar roles and encounter similar challenges in many African settings. Although many valuable training elements are offered in institutions, there is a need to develop broader, more grounded and innovative strategies to address complex realities for fieldworkers, and support the integrity and ethics of health research in these settings.