Please read our student and staff community guidance on COVID-19
Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Warwick researchers help create "ethical compass" to guide research during global health emergencies

Two Warwick researchers have contributed to a new report from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics calling for a more ethical and collaborative approach to conducting research during global health emergencies such as infectious disease outbreaks.

Professor Simon Caney from the Department of Politics and International Studies, and Dr Sharifah Sekalala, Associate Professor in the School of Law, were members of the Working Party which conducted an in-depth inquiry, reviewing the policies and practices of global health emergency research, and presented 24 recommendations for improvement in the form of an "ethical compass" to guide the decisions of those on the ground.

Dr Sekalala said: "It has been a privilege to be the only lawyer on the Nuffield Council on Bioethics on global health emergencies. I hope that today's report will prompt action to put the human rights of the people who are affected by health emergencies at the heart of research. Listening to communities, understanding their needs and designing research that will truly help to reduce people's suffering whilst demonstrating respect are the ideals that all research projects should be striving for."

The latest novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, illustrates how suddenly new threats can emerge, and the important role that research has to play in understanding the nature of the threat, and how to respond effectively.

The pressures and distressing circumstances of such emergency situations can lead to uncertainty about what is ethically acceptable with regards to conducting research, which may mean valuable research is impeded, or that unethical practices could creep in undetected.

Following a two-year inquiry, the Nuffield Council’s Call for Action highlights a number of proposals including:

  • More investment in community engagement so that local voices can be heard, and that everyone involved in research in global health emergencies is treated fairly and respectfully.
  • Ensuring that, before proceeding with any research project, participants’ basic health needs are being addressed. Funders will need to work in partnerships with humanitarian organisations and health ministries to achieve this.
  • Better support for emergency planning, to secure robust health and health research systems - given the vital importance of properly resourced preparedness between emergencies.

    The Call for Action is supported by international research funders and organisations including:

    • International Rescue Committee
    • The African Academy of Sciences
    • Médecins Sans Frontières UK
    • London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
    • Elrha
    • Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz)
    • Geneva Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action

        In its full report, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics makes 24 recommendations for changes to align the policies and practices of global health emergency research with three core values: fairness, equal respect, and helping reduce suffering. The report presents these values in the form of an ‘ethical compass’ to guide the conduct of the very wide range of people involved in research in global health emergencies. These emergencies are challenging environments in which to conduct research, involving much disruption, distress and uncertainty about how and when to proceed and who to involve. The ethical compass will support people in addressing these uncertainties, both on the ground, and at policy level.

        Professor Michael Parker, Chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics working group on global health emergencies, said:

        “Research undertaken during global health emergencies involves real people, families, and communities. It asks a great deal of them, primarily in the interests of others, at a time of great distress, fear, and vulnerability. We are asking anyone involved in planning, funding, and conducting research to bear this at the forefront of their minds throughout all stages of research. Listening to communities, understanding their needs and designing research that will truly help to reduce people’s suffering whilst demonstrating respect are the ideals that all research projects should be striving for.

        A key finding of this report is the vital importance of properly resourced preparedness between emergencies. Preparedness and emergency planning are essential for many reasons: they mean emergencies are less likely to happen and more manageable when they do occur. They also mean that the requirements for valuable, ethical research to be conducted are more likely to be in place.”

        NOTES

        About the Nuffield Council on Bioethics

        The Nuffield Council on Bioethics examines ethical issues raised by new developments in biology and medicine. Established by the Nuffield Foundation in 1991, the Nuffield Council is an independent body, funded jointly by the Nuffield Foundation, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. The Nuffield Council has an international reputation for addressing public concerns and providing independent advice to assist policy makers and stimulate debate in bioethics.

         About the working group  

        The report and call for action follow a two-year in-depth inquiry run by an international working group. Members of the working group were appointed for their personal knowledge and expertise, and do not necessarily represent the views of their organisations. Affiliations and biographies of working group members are available at: https://nuffieldbioethics.org/publications/research-in-global-health-emergencies/about-the-working-group

        28 January 2020

        CONTACT

        Sheila Kiggins

        Media Relations Manager

        s.kiggins@warwick.ac.uk

        02476 150423

        07876 218166