In a remarkable gathering on the sidelines of the Africa Biennial Biosciences Communication Symposium (ABBC2023), biosafety regulators from across Africa converged to reflect on the future of biosafety communication on the continent. This significant meeting brought together regulators primarily from Nigeria, Kenya, Malawi, and Ethiopia, countries that have already adopted guidelines for regulating genome-edited products.
The breakfast meeting, held on August 24, 2023, was also attended by biosafety regulators from Uganda, Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia, and Mozambique, alongside counterparts from Latin American and Asian nations. The gathering provided a unique platform for these experts to share insights and engage in discussions on the regulation of genome editing technologies, as well as the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Key takeaways from this meeting shed light on the common hurdles faced by African countries in communicating genome editing technologies. The absence of regulatory guidelines in most African nations was a prominent issue, leaving them ill-equipped to counter misinformation. Additionally, the use of complex terminology in genome editing presented a significant communication challenge. At times, due to their active participation in public forums and media engagements, regulators often found themselves tagged as technology promoters, further emphasizing the need for improved communication strategies.
The meeting that was also attended by prominent scientists in the field of genome editing also highlighted the urgency of bridging the gap between researchers and regulators. Researchers were encouraged to involve regulators earlier in the technology and product development process to facilitate smoother communication and alignment of efforts. The meeting, while in agreement about the need for a product based approach, rather than a process focused one, also pondered upon workable strategies for communicating about genome editing technologies as a solution to food insecurity, especially when commercial products were yet to be available.
One of the core recommendations emerging from the meeting was the need for collaborative efforts, including South-South collaborations, to implement multimedia communication strategies aimed at enhancing public understanding of genome editing and countering misinformation. Creating easily accessible research databases for the public and promoting data sharing were also stressed as vital steps in ensuring science-based decision-making.
As Africa navigates the dynamic biosafety regulatory landscape, the emphasis remains on fostering understanding, empathy, and trust through effective communication. This gathering marked a pivotal step towards achieving these goals and ensuring that biosafety and science go hand in hand for the benefit of African societies.