Evaluation of the quality of informed consent in a vaccine field trial in a developing country setting

BACKGROUND:Informed consent is an ethical and legal requirement for research involving human participants. However, few studies have evaluated the process, particularly in Africa.Participants in a case control study designed to identify correlates of immune protection against tuberculosis (TB) in South Africa. This study was in turn nested in a large TB vaccine efficacy trial.The aim of the study was to evaluate the quality of consent in the case control study, and to identify factors that may influence the quality of consent.Cross-sectional study conducted over a 4 month period. METHODS: Consent was obtained from parents of trial participants. These parents were asked to complete a questionnaire that contained questions about the key elements of informed consent (voluntary participation, confidentiality, the main risks and benefits, etc.). The recall (success in selecting the correct answers) and understanding (correctness of interpretation of statements presented) were measured. RESULTS: The majority of the 192 subjects interviewed obtained scores greater than 75% for both the recall and understanding sections. The median score for recall was 66%; interquartile range (IQR) = 55%-77% and for understanding 75% (IQR = 50%-87%). Most (79%) were aware of the risks and 64% knew that they participated voluntarily. Participants who had completed Grade 7 at school and higher were more likely (OR = 4.94; 95% CI = 1.57 - 15.55) to obtain scores greater than 75% for recall than those who did not. Participants who were consented by professional nurses who had worked for more than two years in research were also more likely (OR = 2.62; 95% CI = 1.35-5.07) to obtain such scores for recall than those who were not. CONCLUSION: Notwithstanding the constraints in a developing country, in a population with low levels of literacy and education, the quality of informed consent found in this study could be considered as building blocks for establishing acceptable standards for public health research. Education level of respondents and experience of research staff taking the consent were associated with good quality informed consent.