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Zimbabwe proposes new medical research Bill

Zimbabwe has begun drafting new medical research legislation to initiate a national health research fund, among other priorities, in a reform process researchers hope will solve some of their concerns.

After invitations for public comment and consultations last year, the Medical Research Council of Zimbabwe (MRCZ) is now compiling a report – based on opinions of interested parties – on what form the new law should take, reports University World News.

In a public notice, the MRCZ, which falls the Ministry of Health and Child Care, said the proposed legislation was the Medical Research Bill, which should establish, among others, the Medical Research Council, National Medical Research Ethics Committee, National Clinical Trials Centre, as well as a National Health Research Fund.

The new Medical Research Council will also replace and expand the MRCZ structures to include other disciplines linked to health research, like science, technology and agriculture.

The legislation is expected to facilitate commercialisation and modalities for the collaboration of researchers and research institutions inside and beyond Zimbabwe’s borders.

Intellectual property and ethics included

The proposed law will have provisions to recommend appropriate research needs during emergencies and epidemics, and provide for intellectual property rights – as well as the use of these – in the commercialisation of health research.

Also to be constituted will be a national health research ethics committee, responsible for reviewing and determining study protocols, with legislative measures to deal with any infractions by researchers.

It will regulate health research databases and biobanks as well as advanced genetic research, including genomics, gene editing, telemedicine and personalised medicine, and the prohibition of unethical research, like human cloning.

Professor Tendayi Kureya, executive secretary of the Medical Research Council of Zimbabwe, told University World News that most consultations on the proposed legislation have been concluded and the report was currently being written.

Refocus needed to update laws

“Medical research laws here are a bit outdated. Movements in technology and the emergence of new diseases, like Covid-19, require that we are proactive and more organised. Research is an important ingredient for us to attain Vision 2030. The MRCZ is engaging stakeholders so that we craft new legislation enabling us to refocus,” he said.

Professor Edmond Sanganyado, secretary of the Zimbabwe Research Network, said a major challenge was the lack of data transparency, which the Bill should address.

“There are lots of medical data collected each year, but these remain inaccessible to local researchers. For example, I’m interested in understanding the impact of air pollution on human health. Getting data from local health institutions is a big hurdle because of the lack of clear procedures. In the end, we’re reduced to adopting air pollution mitigation strategies developed in the Global North, when we could generate our own relevant evidence,” he said.

Funding could boost local research

A crucial issue needing attention in the Bill is funding. Medical research in Zimbabwe is predominantly funded by foreign charity organisations and governments, and so the funders bankroll research they consider important, but which sometimes may not align with national research priorities.

Sanganyado said this makes it impossible for local researchers to explore ground-breaking studies

“Only local organisations and the government can fund high-risk, high-reward research, such as finding a vaccine for cholera or gene therapy for diseases like thalassaemia.

“Setting up a national medical research fund that disburses at least US$10m annually to local researchers, with enough tax incentives for the private sector to match that amount, could be a good start for our medical research field,” he added.


University World News article – New health research bill might address funding, data issues (Open access)


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