A scoping review of genetics and genomics research ethics policies and guidelines for Africa

Joseph Ali, Betty Cohn, Erisa Mwaka, Juli M. Bollinger, Betty Kwagala, John Barugahare, Nelson K. Sewankambo, Joseph Ochieng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Genetics and genomics research (GGR) is increasingly being conducted around the world; yet, researchers and research oversight entities in many countries have struggled with ethical challenges. A range of ethics and regulatory issues need to be addressed through comprehensive policy frameworks that integrate with local environments. While important efforts have been made to enhance understanding and awareness of ethical dimensions of GGR in Africa, including through the H3Africa initiative, there remains a need for in-depth policy review, at a country-level, to inform and stimulate local policy development and revision on the continent. Methods: To identify and characterize existing ethics-related guidelines and laws applicable to GGR across much of Africa, we conducted a scoping review of English language policy documents identified through databases, repositories, and web searches. Thirty-six documents were included and coded using a framework that contained a range of themes across five analytical categories: (1) respect, (2) beneficence, (3) justice, (4) independent oversight, and (5) bans and prohibitions. Data analysis software (NVivo 12) was used to organize, code, and tabulate information according to document characteristics and topics. Illustrative examples of policy requirements were selected for inclusion. Results: Documents that met inclusion criteria spanned 20 years; published between 1996 and 2018, with the majority (58%) published after 2009. About two-thirds were denoted as “guidelines,” and slightly more than half were non-exclusive to GGR. Very few (six) country-level documents identified were specific to GGR. Requirements related to the principle of “respect” appeared most often across all documents, relative to other principles and processes. The most commonly stated ban was on reproductive cloning. Other prohibitions applied to germline editing, undue inducements in research, sample use for commercial purposes, employee mandatory DNA testing, fetal sex selection, stem cell use, eugenics, and research without public health benefits. Conclusions: Enforceable policies that are indispensable to the ethical conduct and review of GGR are either deficient or missing in many African countries. Existing international, GGR-specific ethics guidelines can be used to inform GGR policy development at a country-level, in conjunction with insight from country specific ethics committees and other local stakeholders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number39
JournalBMC Medical Ethics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Africa
  • Ethics
  • Genetics and genomics research
  • Laws
  • Policies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy


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