Research in global health emergencies: ethical issues


Published 28/01/2020

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Collaborations and partnerships

See Chapter 8 of the full report

Cooperation between research and response

Effective cooperation with the many other organisations operating on the ground is essential to ensure that research is well aligned with the emergency response needs. From the very beginning, research funders should promote close working relationships between researchers and those directly responsible for emergency response, at strategic level and on the ground.

  • When planning research in a global health emergency, researchers and funders need to be confident that adequate response services will be in place before prospective participants are approached.
  • Research plans must include contingency arrangements, recognising that partners may not always be in a position to deliver agreed services (whether for financial or other reasons).
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Collaborations within the research sector

Is there an ethical obligation to work collaboratively?

“Hell yes. It is limited by the practical constraints of the current system and their potential impact on researchers’ livelihoods so should not be underplayed, but a grown-up system should aspire to address these issues. If grant awarding bodies were to strongly support collaboration and if academic institutions were to accept contribution as sign of output rather than just money won and papers authored then the rest should follow.”

- Respondent to our call for evidence

Good research relies on bringing together partners with different kinds of expertise, working together collaboratively to ensure that methods and approaches are coherent across the partnership. Meaningful research collaborations involve shared aims, and opportunities for all parties involved to shape the research and influence objectives and outcomes.

The importance of fair collaborations is underpinned by the ethical imperative to treat others, colleagues as well as research participants, with equal respect.

Promoting fairness in collaborations between research partners – particularly between external research institutions and their local partners in high- and low-income settings – is important both during an emergency, and over the longer-term.

We recommend that during an emergency:

  • Research institutions need to take active steps to ensure that their relationships with researchers from other institutions are as fair as possible in the circumstances. This includes establishing collaboration agreements early; making sure people are fairly credited for their work; and making sure partners working in low-income settings have access to essential resources such as libraries and training.
  • Funders should take active steps to connect potential collaborators, and to encourage fair arrangements within collaborations.

We recommend that over the long-term:

  • Funders should support long-term fair collaborations as an essential part of research capacity development and strengthening. They should also prioritise sustainable funding models that support institutions in low and middle income countries to apply for grants directly.
  • National governments need to strengthen their academic capacity, including in social science and bioethics, to support the development of local expertise.