• Africa;
  • developing world bioethics;
  • research ethics;
  • sub-Saharan Africa;
  • committees;
  • genetics


In this paper, we describe the potential role laypersons on ethics committees can play in ensuring community concerns are addressed in the design and implementation of genomic research. We draw inferences from the outcome of an empirical study of the impact of training of laypersons to address community engagement issues in ethics review of research protocol. While this paper does not advocate a particular solution, it describes the importance of community engagement in genomic research, the current limitations there are in engaging communities in the design of these research projects and how communities can be indirectly engaged in the design and implementation of genomic research through the engagement of laypersons on ethics committees. However, to ensure that these laypersons can play this role, their capacity needs to be built to play this role appropriately. There is evidence to show that where resources are invested in building the capacity of laypersons to play their role as community ‘watchdogs’ in research, they play this role aptly. Community engagement is important in genomic research as genomic researchers will increasingly require community perspectives in critical ethics decision making.