Session 26: Ethics and Global Health Research

By: Jennifer Kitts, Consultant

Several speakers participated in the session “Ethics and Global Health Research” on Monday afternoon. The session was moderated by Ibrahim Daibes, of the Global Health Research Initiative. The speakers highlighted that ethics in global health research goes far beyond what many traditionally think of as “research ethics” – such as getting approval from a research ethics board, getting informed consent statements, and so on. The issue is much more wide-ranging.

“There are various ’ethical stops’ in the knowledge-to-action cycle of global health research where one can pause and reflect,” said Kristiann Allen, of the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR).

The speakers discussed various ethical questions that can be explored during the research process, including:

-          To what extent does your discipline or theoretical perspective influence the research agenda?

-          Are you conducting research because you are “following the money” (the priorities of funders)? Is it the most relevant research?

-          How do you choose collaborators?

-          How do you ensure that there is an ethical partnership in the case of collaboration between researchers from the North and the South? What are the power dynamics?

-          In the process of knowledge translation, what information is ‘privileged’?

-          What are the ethics of sustainability? What will happen once the project finishes?

-          What is the best way to handle ethical issues related to knowledge ownership? “What if a government official want to have his name appear on the study, but he did nothing?” asked Martin Forde.

Erica Di Ruggiero of CIHR raised some important questions concerning the role of funders in determining the research agenda and the extent to which various forces influence the priorities of funders. “Why do funders allocate resources to some issues and not to others?” she asked. She added that, “funders have to look at the ethical implications of their decisions and where they put their dollars – ultimately it’s a resource allocation issue.”

Susan Tilley ofBrockUniversity encouraged researchers to explore the extent to which the “sociocultural identities that we carry influence the research process.” She asked, “what preparation is necessary to ensure that we conduct respectful research?”

Karin Morrison said that there are, “a complex network of moral relationships that change over time as we pass through the research process.” She emphasized that, “there are techniques and tools that can be applied to navigate challenges and come to a resolution.”

The session was very positively received, and generated a number of questions and comments, as well as the sharing of personal experiences and challenges, from audience members.

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