Obama appoints Ugandan to top ethics commission

US President Barack Obama has named a 37-year-old Ugandan on his eminent Bioethics Commission to review federal rules and explore new international standards governing research involving human subjects.

Dr Amy Gutmann, chair of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethics, announced the appointment of Mr Julius Ecuru, the assistant executive director of Uganda National Council for Science and Technology, and other experts, yesterday.

“It is exciting but also a challenging task. I feel honoured and privileged to be appointed to share our experiences at a global level,” Mr Ecuru told this newspaper last night.

He added: “It’s recognition of our efforts in developing research and bio-medical ethics and I hope I will learn some of the best practices that I can bring home to help Uganda.”

A press statement from Washington on the President’s Bioethics Commission said the international panel will investigate allegations, which surfaced last October, that the US, some 60 years ago, deliberately infected Guatamalan prisoners with syphilis for medical study.

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President Obama took exception to the embarrassing, if not criminal, revelations and he has tasked the top scientists drawn from Africa, India, China and Europe, to “consider the effectiveness of current federal rules and international standards governing research involving human subjects”.

Syphilis research on humans
It emerged last year that a US Public Health Service-supported research on sexually transmitted diseases in Guatemala, from 1946 to 1948, involved the intentional infection of vulnerable human populations.

“The members of this International Research Panel will offer a valuable global perspective,” Dr Gutmann said. “Their diverse backgrounds, extensive experience and understanding of global research, and their commitment to the highest ethical standards will be critical to informing the Bioethics Commission’s report to President Obama.”

Mr Ecuru, who together with Egypt’s Adel Mahmoud, are the only Africans on the panel, said he is upbeat about the assignment and will do his personal best.

The experts will be acting in their individual professional capacities, not as official representatives of their home governments, according to officials.

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