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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Science Policy

Repeated Assessments of Informed Consent Comprehension among HIV-Infected Participants of a Three-Year Clinical Trial in Botswana
Published: Thursday, October 27, 2011
Author: Lelia H. Chaisson et al.

by Lelia H. Chaisson, Nancy E. Kass, Bafanana Chengeta, Unami Mathebula, Taraz Samandari


Informed consent (IC) has been an international standard for decades for the ethical conduct of clinical trials. Yet frequently study participants have incomplete understanding of key issues, a problem exacerbated by language barriers or lack of familiarity with research concepts. Few investigators measure participant comprehension of IC, while even fewer conduct interim assessments once a trial is underway.

Methods and Findings

We assessed comprehension of IC using a 20-question true/false quiz administered in 6-month intervals in the context of a placebo-controlled, randomized trial for the prevention of tuberculosis among HIV-infected adults in Botswana (2004–2009). Quizzes were offered in both Setswana and English. To enroll in the TB trial, participants were required to have =16/20 correct responses. We examined concepts understood and the degree to which understanding changed over three-years. We analyzed 5,555 quizzes from 1,835 participants. The participants' highest education levels were: 28% primary, 59% secondary, 9% tertiary and 7% no formal education. Eighty percent of participants passed the enrollment quiz (Quiz1) on their first attempt and the remainder passed on their second attempt. Those having higher than primary education and those who took the quiz in English were more likely to receive a passing score on their first attempt (adjusted odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals, 3.1 (2.4–4.0) and 1.5 (1.2, 1.9), respectively). The trial's purpose or procedures were understood by 90–100% of participants, while 44–77% understood randomization, placebos, or risks. Participants who failed Quiz1 on their initial attempt were more likely to fail quizzes later in the trial. Pass rates improved with quiz re-administration in subsequent years.


Administration of a comprehension quiz at enrollment and during follow-up was feasible in a large, international collaboration and efficiently determined IC comprehension by trial participants. Strategies to improve understanding of concepts like placebos and randomization are needed. Comprehension assessments throughout a study may reinforce key concepts.