The University of Ghana, Legon, has graduated its inaugural cohort of Bioethicists, comprising 18 individuals from diverse backgrounds.
The ceremony, held on January 23, 2024, adds to the progress made by the University and for that matter, the School of Public Health in its commitment to contributing to ethical practices in research and public health interventions.
The graduates, who underwent rigorous training covering both theoretical knowledge and practical applications, at the School of Public Health are poised to “contribute to the promotion of research integrity and humanistic service provision within the field of public health”.
The Master of Science in Bioethics programme, a groundbreaking interdisciplinary initiative, aims to groom individuals capable of ensuring the ethical implementation of public health interventions, including research endeavors.
A graduating student, Dr. Isaac Gyamfi told journalists at the sideline of the graduation ceremony that “Bioethics as a multidisciplinary field of study is a challenging field of study – requiring critical thinking. So, graduating with a Master’s degree in such a field implies my adeptness in solving critical issues that confront humanity and the world head-on. I am proud of this.”
“This program has afforded me profound insights into the multitude of contentious ethical issues pervasive in African communities. These encompass unethical research practices, unjust public policy decision-making, and the ethical considerations surrounding food and nutrition. I am optimistic about the ample opportunities for positive change in these domains, and my involvement in this knowledgeable community instills in me a sense of purpose to actively pursue such transformations in our communities,” Silver Nanema, another graduating student said.
Rosaline Akangah, an IRB Administrator, also a graduating student, shared her thoughts saying, “I couldn’t believe it when I woke up on 23rd January 2023 and it was my graduation day. Reflecting through the year 2022, I could only agree with the dean of students that am here because of my dedicated hard work. When I finally submitted my final dissertation, I felt a huge burden lifted and I had a good night’s sleep. Reflecting on the entire program, I realized I have been well mentored and it has influenced positively my current position in my field of work. Seeing my colleagues again and teasing each other on how we responded during challenging moments was just refreshing. A big thank you to all our mentors, tutors and supervisors. God richly bless us all.”
Adding her voice, another graduate, Zuliehatu Nakobu, expressed her hope that the skills acquired by students will be harnessed by the state.
“I hope that the government will collaborate with the University of Ghana to effectively utilize our skills. Bioethicists play a crucial role, particularly in health services, industries, and research institutions. I am delighted to be part of this community of bioethicists in Ghana,” she said.
For his part, Professor Amos Laar, one of the Principal Investigators of the New York-University of Ghana Research Integrity Training Program, which facilitated the establishment of the Bioethics Program at the University of Ghana, shared his excitement. “This landmark achievement is a dream come true! The University of Ghana School of Public Health and its partners celebrate with the graduands – the first cohort of students to graduate from the first-ever graduate-level Bioethics Training Program in Ghana. The journey ahead of these graduands is not just a career path but also a huge commitment to protecting public health. They are the new vanguards, empowered, and resourced with compassion to tackle some of the most pressing moral questions in Ghana or of the world.”
Prof. Richmond Aryeetey, Head of Population, Family and Reproduction Health Department, University of Ghana, expressed pride in having contributed to the development of the students.
“I am immensely proud to witness the graduation of the inaugural cohort of MSc Bioethics students from our Department. This cohort has demonstrated that this course is needed and it has come to stay. As a Department, we are happy to contribute to nurturing ethical leadership in healthcare and research for Ghana and the various countries that our first cohort came from. It is our hope that our graduates will challenge the status quo and advance the frontiers of complex ethical dilemmas in health and other social science disciplines. We look forward to the difference they are going to make both in practice and policy. Like we say, Ayekoo,” Prof. Aryeetey said.
Dean of the School of Public Health, University of Ghana, Professor Kwasi Torpey averred that the feat is critical because of the intersection between public health and ethical integrity.
“This year – 2024, the University of Ghana, School of Public Health celebrates double landmark achievements – its 30th Anniversary on the one hand. On the other, the School proudly witnessed the graduation of our inaugural MSc Bioethics cohort. This reminds us of the critical intersection between public health and ethical integrity. These exceptional graduates are equipped not only with knowledge but with a deep sense of responsibility to navigate the ethical frontiers of public health, healthcare and research, ensuring that the well-being of communities remains at the forefront of progress,” Prof. Torpey said.
Prof. Olugbenga Ogedegbe of New York University, and Co-PI of the Bioethics Training Program, reflected on the journey describing it as “a dream come a dream come true”. “Finally, we have on the West Coast of Africa the first Master’s Program in Bioethics in addition to the 190 or so investigators we have trained between Ghana and Nigeria,” he noted.
“This is a major milestone for bioethics education in Ghana. We should all celebrate and be proud of what UG, the new MSc program, and its first graduates have accomplished. I’m honored and grateful to have played a small part in this achievement. And I look forward to the work ahead. This is just the beginning.” Professor Kyle Ferguson, who served as the coordinator of the project, and currently one of the Co-Investigators noted.
Professor Art Caplan (of New York University) is one the three Co-PIs of the project. He noted: “this superb program, the product of a powerful collaboration among many scholars; it promises to have a positive impact in facilitating research in Ghana and Africa”
In response to the prevailing need for comprehensive research integrity capacity building in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs), particularly in Ghana, the MSc Bioethics program was initiated through a collaboration between the University of Ghana (UG) and New York University (NYU) about a decade ago.
This initiative stemmed from the realization that while significant efforts have been dedicated to establishing research ethics committees (ERCs/RECs/IRBs) in LMICs, there has been a gap in addressing broader Research Integrity (RI) constructs encompassing scientific quality, ethical engagement, and prevention of research misconduct (RM). Local understanding of evidence gaps, political context, and cultural nuances emphasized the necessity for locally led and built approaches to research integrity capacity building.
Motivated by these insights, researchers from NYU and Ghana embarked on the Ghanaian Research Integrity Development (GRID) project, supported by funding from the Office of Research Integrity (ORI). GRID aimed to assess the existing RI landscape in Ghana, identify challenges through self-assessment, and develop a plan for RI capacity building. The project engaged Ghanaian researchers, institutional officials, and governmental representatives in a collaborative effort facilitated by both local and NYU-based participants.
Building upon the insights gained from GRID, the NYU-UG Research Integrity Training Program (NYU UG RITP) was launched. Funded by the Fogarty International Center, U.S. National Institutes of Health, this collaborative program between NYU and UG seeks to address identified gaps in RI through a fellowship program focused on research ethics, RI, and research governance. Its ultimate goal was to establish a Bioethics programme at the UG School of Public Health.