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Complex realities: community engagement for a paediatric randomized controlled malaria vaccine trial in Kilifi, Kenya

Vibian Angwenyi1, Dorcas Kamuya12, Dorothy Mwachiro1, Betty Kalama1, Vicki Marsh123, Patricia Njuguna1 and Sassy Molyneux123*

Author Affiliations

1 The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)/Wellcome Trust Research Programme, P.O. Box, 230-80108, Kilifi, Kenya

2 The Ethox Centre, Department of Public Health, University of Oxford, Old Road Campus, Headington, Oxford OX3 7LF, UK

3 The Centre for Clinical Vaccinology and Tropical Medicine, Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, Old Road Campus, Headington, Oxford OX3 7LF, UK

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Trials 2014, 15:65  doi:10.1186/1745-6215-15-65

Published: 25 February 2014



Community engagement (CE) is increasingly promoted for biomedical research conducted in resource poor settings for both intrinsic and instrumental purposes. Given the potential importance of CE, but also complexities and possibilities of unexpected negative outcomes, there is need for more documentation of CE processes in practice. We share experiences of formal CE for a paediatric randomized controlled malaria vaccine trial conducted in three sites within Kilifi County, Kenya.


Social scientists independent of the trial held in-depth individual interviews with trial researchers (n = 5), community leaders (n = 8) and parents (15 with enrolled children and 4 without); and group discussions with fieldworkers (n = 6) and facility staff (n = 2). We conducted a survey of participating households (n = 200) and observed over 150 CE activities.


The overall CE plan was similar across the three study sites. The majority of respondents felt that CE activities helped to clear pre-existing concerns and misconceptions, and increase familiarity with and trust in trial staff. Challenges included: some community leaders attempting to exert pressure on people to enrol; local wording in information sheets and consent forms feeding into serious anxieties about the trial; and concerns about reduced CE over time. Negative effects of these challenges were mitigated through changes to on-going CE activities, and final information sharing and consent being conducted individually by trained clinical staff. One year after enrolment, 31% (n = 62) of participants’ parents reported malaria prevention as the main aim of the activities their children were involved in, and 93% wanted their children to remain involved.


The trial teams’ goals for CE were relatively clear from the outset. Other actors’ hopes and expectations (like higher allowances and future employment) were not openly discussed, but emerged over the course of engagements. Encouraging open discussion of all actors’ intentions and goals from the outset takes time, risks raising expectations that cannot be met, and is complex. However, doing so in future similar trials may allow successes here to be built upon, and some challenges to be minimized or avoided.

Trial registration NCT00866619 (registration 19-Mar-2009).

Community engagement; Informed consent; Malaria; Randomized controlled vaccine trial; Sub-Saharan Africa