A Principal Research Investigator, Professor James Philip of the Columbia University, USA, currently working on a research project at the Navrongo Health Research Centre (NHRC) in the Upper East Region, has been accused of research misconduct and fraud.
The two research programmes under Prof. Philip are; the Mobile Technology for Community Health (MOTECH), which is ongoing and the Navrongo Experiment that was done between 1993 and 2005 in the Kassena Nankana area.
Ms Mame Yaa Busumtwi, a public health specialist, who is making the accusations, spoke to the Ghana News Agency in Bolgatanga on Tuesday and said that until March 2010, she was the Programme Manager, Communication Director and Editor of the MOTECH Research Newsletter.
She said Prof. Philip asked her to commit fraud by omitting information that would give credit to the sponsors of the Research Programme and rather create the impression that the programme was under the Ghana Health Service (GHS).
“I was persistently ordered to omit information about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the main sponsors of the Research and also other contributors including the Columbia University and the Grameen Foundation from the Research Newsletter”, she said.
Ms Busumtwi said she refused because it was unethical to conceal sponsors and significant participants in a research document and so her employment was terminated two days later.
She said studying the Navrongo Experiment, a research carried out under Professor Philip she found out that it was carried out without an Informed Consent Form that should have explained to the women involved exactly what they were involved in, including knowledge of all possible side effects of the family planning methods used.
She said among the various methods used in the research, only Depo Provera was mentioned, and wondered why the others were not written down.
Ms Busumtwi said she had received a lot of information from Health Personnel, who worked with Prof. Philip, claiming that he fabricates research statistics and obtains research data by circumventing conventional ethical protocols and methods.
“Ghana should be seen as a venue of quality verifiable and valid research and not a victim of powerful unscrupulous foreign doctors, who use funding as a bait to skew and fabricate research for their desired outcome”, she said.
A statement signed by Dr Abraham Hodgson, Director of the NHRC, refuted allegations levelled against the Centre by Ms Busumtwi that it carried out research where over 1,500 women were used as human subjects in birth control without full disclosure of and informed consent about adverse effects of the vials and oral drugs used.
It stated, ”the attention of the Navrongo Health Research Centre and the Upper East Regional Health Directorate has been drawn to out-rightly false, unsubstantiated and libellous comments being made by one Ms. Busumtwi, known to us as a former employee of the Columbia University and one Mr Sedem Amedeke, President and Coordinator of the National Violent Movements of Integrity.
The statement explained that the Navrongo Experiment, officially known as the Navrongo Community Health and Family Planning Project was one of the major studies conducted by the NRHC.
It noted that the study sought to restructure the existing health systems to be able to provide accessible, affordable, efficient and effective services to people, particularly those in rural areas.
It noted that the study adopted an integrated approach to providing health services by relocating Community Health Nurses (CHNs) from the traditional facilities to live and work with rural communities.
The statement indicated that CHNs used registered medications and products approved by the Ghana Health Service for the routine use in the facilities such as injectable contraceptives, other family planning devices and other medication to treat patients, who reported to them, seeking various services including family planning services.
The statement explained that the Navrongo Experiment did not at any time during the period of the study, test any product or drug. It said the import of the study was to determine feasible means of improving access to health services for rural people and to find out if improved access to health care delivery led to an improvement in health status of the people.
It noted that the study was structured in a manner that there was no reason to seek individual informed consent because patients or clients who required health services would normally report at health facilities to be attended to by the health personnel.
The statement stated that there were several publications in peer-reviewed journals arising out of the Navrongo Experiment, which were available on the Internet and that if anybody was in doubt they could cross check that, adding that other sources are freely available at the NHRC.
It said the NHRC had continued to work under difficult circumstances to improve public health in Ghana and beyond and said whilst it welcomes public scrutiny to improve upon health delivery, it would strongly object to misrepresentations and distortions that would undermine the efforts and hard-won reputation and trust the Centre had gained over the years.