The state of safety in life science research in southern African countries will be probed at a two-day workshop of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) on 19 – 20 March 2018.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) representatives will have the opportunity to exchange ideas and discuss existing mechanisms and challenges relating to biosafety and biosecurity in the region.
Safe, secure and ethical conduct in life science research in South Africa was assessed in an earlier consensus study report by ASSAf entitled The State of Biosafety and Biosecurity in South Africa.
Research and development in the life sciences are important elements of growth and development and are essential to address the needs of a country. The ASSAf study contributed towards a better understaning of biosafety and biosecurity in life science research as it is in the interest of all South Africans.
An important suggestion was that conclusions and recommendations of the study should be considered and discussed at a SADC regional symposium on biosafety and biosecurity in order to consider the findings and recommendations in the interest of the entire southern African region.
The ASSAf report evaluated existing measures and capacity to detect, identify, control and prevent the natural, accidental or deliberate spread of infectious agents. It commented on the relationship between science and safety and addressed shortcomings, strengths and gaps in the laws and their implementation, as well as the practices relating to biosafety and biosecurity at laboratory level.
Key findings from the study included poor education and/or training on research ethics for life scientists, inadequate compliance with the statutory obligations to report Notifiable Medical Conditions, the lack of a database of both public and commercial laboratories in the country and a low level of awareness among life scientists about national and international conventions, laws and regulations related to Biosafety and Biosecurity.
On education and awareness raising, several findings were made. A survey among practising life scientists found that education and/or training on research ethics, including issues such as scientific misconduct (falsification, fabrication and plagiarism), is not routine for life scientists. Such training is essential to ensure the integrity of science in South Africa. Biosafety training is not regularly conducted for staff working in laboratories, nor was a test of competence routinely required. There was also a low level of awareness among life scientists about national and international conventions, laws and regulations related to Biosafety and Biosecurity.
The report provides guidance on how recommendations can be implemented in a manner that can improve the state of biosafety and biosecurity in South Africa.
These were grouped under the following four themes, namely
Improving the capacity to detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks.
Education and awareness raising.
Scientific openness and transparency.
Some 70 representatives including scientists, policymakers, non-government representatives and other key role players in the field from at least 13 countries are expected to attend the workshop.