Research in developing countries - Summary and conclusions

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There is an urgent need for externally sponsored research in developing countries. However, rigorous ethical safeguards must be in place to prevent the exploitation of those who take part in the research.

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Research in developing countries - Consent

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For research to be ethically acceptable, participants should be given the relevant information in a comprehensible manner, and must take part voluntarily. However, differences in social and cultural contexts in developing countries mean that some procedures may be ineffective or inappropriate. The way in which information on the potential risks and benefits of research is provided is particularly important.

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Research in developing countries - Framework of guidance

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When planning research in developing countries, researchers and sponsors may be subject to a wide range of national and international guidance, guidelines, declarations and regulations, including:

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Research in developing countries - Ethical framework

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We recognise that it would not be possible to formulate a robust set of guidelines for all situations. However, we identify four principles which should be taken into account by anyone who is designing or conducting healthcare research in developing countries. These are:

  • the duty to alleviate suffering

  • the duty to show respect for persons

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Research in developing countries - Social and cultural issues

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Misunderstandings can occur when sponsors of research are unfamiliar with the cultural traditions of the country in which it is conducted. There will often be cultural differences between those organising or funding the research and the participants, for example, differing perspectives on respect for family and individuals, and the role of the community.

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Research in developing countries - Introduction

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Developing countries urgently need research to help relieve the enormous burden of disease that they carry. It is vital that those in wealthy countries, both in the public and private sector, help fund this research. However, the inequalities that exist between developed and developing countries create significant risks of exploitation when externally sponsored research is carried out.

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Research in developing countries - Exploratory workshop: discussion paper (1999)

In February 1999 the Council hosted an international workshop on the ethical issues arising from research conducted in developing countries. 

A discussion paper was produced, based on the deliberations and background papers presented at the workshop. It provides an introductory exploration of the key issues.


The ethics of clinical research in developing countries: a Discussion Paper (PDF 329KB)

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