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Covid-19 clinical studies turn a blind eye to Africa


Less than one in 20 clinical trials took place on the continent, study finds

Only 4 per cent of the world’s clinical trials of Covid-19 interventions have been conducted in Africa, a paper has found.

The paper, published on 7 October on open-access platform BMC, warns that the dearth of African studies is dangerous as the epidemiology of the disease is still unravelling.

“It is imperative that African countries actively seek to fund Covid-19 research and other research priorities to drive their research agenda and take ownership,” write the paper’s authors, who include researchers from The Gambia and South Africa.

The paper bases its conclusions on data from the World Health Organization’s International Clinical Trials Registry Platform. Only 456 of the 9,800 unique trials listed on the WHO repository were conducted in Africa. About 80 per cent of the African trials took place in Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria.

Close to half of the clinical trials in Africa focused on “drug-related research”, followed by biological interventions (15 per cent) and diagnostic (7 per cent). The drug studies in Africa focused predominantly on the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine and its variants.

The paper does not divulge how Africa’s research profile differs from the global one. But the authors say that trials on targeted vaccination of at-risk people, phase four clinical studies, and observational studies into pandemic drivers and predictions are needed in Africa.

This is not the first paper to decry the uneven distribution of Covid-19 research around the world. A study in April found that only 15 per cent of the world’s Covid-19 research took place in the Global South. Another study reported that in the first eight months of the pandemic, sub-Saharan Africa contributed just 2 per cent of global research on Covid-19.