Cultural conceptions of research and informed consent.
Gasa, Nolwazi Bright Khanyisile.
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AIDS has had a negative impact on developing countries. Because most developing countries cannot afford the new antiretroviral drug therapies, it has been suggested that preventive vaccines might reduce the spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic (Bloom, 1998). The clinical trials of AIDS vaccines do, however, present with complex ethical issues such as informed consent. Informed consent is primarily grounded on the Western principle of respect for individuals as autonomous agents. This may be at variance, however, with African societies' emphasis on the social embeddedness of the individual. The current study forms part of the HIVNET vaccine trials to be conducted in Hlabisa, in Northern Zululand, under the auspices of the South African Medical Research Council. The main aim of the study was to explore key informants' cultural conceptions of research and informed consent in order to facilitate community consultation and cultural sensitivity. Maximum variation sampling was used to select twenty-three key informants, who are in leadership positions within Hlabisa. An interview guide was used to facilitate narrative disclosure of cultural conceptions of research and informed consent. Perceptions of research, conceptions of the informed consent process, and projected motivations for why individuals agree to participate in studies were explored during interviews. Results suggest that members of the Hlabisa community have a limited understanding of the Western research process. Community education about research is therefore warranted. Informants indicated that community members would value the establishment of a relationship characterised by mutual respect for cultural differences between researchers and participants. This was perceived as likely to facilitate shared decision-making, and the reduction of the power differentials that exist between researchers and participants. While the involvement of key community leaders and family members was recommended by most informants, a few informants felt that participants could also make individual decisions about participation. The theoretical implications of the study are considered last.