How can community engagement in health research be strengthened for infectious disease outbreaks in Sub-Saharan Africa? A scoping review of the literature
Vanderslott S, Van Ryneveld M, Marchant M, Lees S, Nolna SK, Marsh V
BMC Public Health. 2021;21
BACKGROUND: Community engagement (CE) is a well-established practical and scholarly field, recognised as core to the science and ethics of health research, for which researchers and practitioners have increasingly asked questions about desired standards and evaluation. In infectious disease outbreak contexts, questions may be more complex. However, it is unclear what body of knowledge has been developed for CE specifically as it applies to emerging infectious diseases. This scoping review seeks to describe (1) How CE has been conceptualised and understood; and (2) What conclusions have research teams reached on the effectiveness of CE in these settings, including challenges and facilitators. METHODS: We used a scoping review framework by Arksey and O'Malley (Int J Soc Res Methodol 8:19-32, 2005) to structure our review. We conducted a brainstorming session and initial trial search to inform the protocol, search terms, and strategy. Three researchers discussed, developed and applied agreed screening tools and selection criteria to the final search results. Five researchers used the screening tools to screen abstracts and full text for inclusion by consensus. Additional publications were sought from references of retrieved publications and an expert call for literature. We analysed and reported emerging themes qualitatively. RESULTS: We included 59 papers from a total of 722 articles derived from our trial and final literature searches, as well as a process of "citation chasing" and an expert call for grey literature. The core material related exclusively to health research trials during the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak. We synthesized reports on components of effectiveness of CE to identify and propose three themes as essential elements of effective CE. CONCLUSIONS: While there is a large volume of literature documenting CE activities in infectious disease research settings generally, there are few accounts of effectiveness dimensions of CE. Our review proposes three themes to facilitate the effectiveness of CE initiatives as essential elements of CE activities in infectious diseases studies: (1) Communication towards building collaborative relationships; (2) Producing contextual knowledge; and (3) Learning lessons over time. As there were relatively few in-depth accounts of CE from our literature review, documentation and accounts of CE used in health research should be prioritised.