Research integrity and research fairness have gained considerable momentum in the past decade and have direct implications for global health epidemiology. Research integrity and research fairness principles should be equally nurtured to produce high-quality impactful research-but bridging the two can lead to practical and ethical dilemmas. In order to provide practical guidance to researchers and epidemiologist, we set out to develop good epidemiological practice guidelines specifically for global health epidemiology, targeted at stakeholders involved in the commissioning, conduct, appraisal and publication of global health research.
We developed preliminary guidelines based on targeted online searches on existing best practices for epidemiological studies and sought to align these with key elements of global health research and research fairness. We validated these guidelines through a Delphi consultation study, to reach a consensus among a wide representation of stakeholders.
A total of 45 experts provided input on the first round of e-Delphi consultation and 40 in the second. Respondents covered a range of organisations (including for example academia, ministries, NGOs, research funders, technical agencies) involved in epidemiological studies from countries around the world (Europe: 19; Africa: 10; North America: 7; Asia: 5; South-America: 3 Australia: 1). A selection of eight experts were invited for a face-to-face meeting. The final guidelines consist of a set of 6 standards and 42 accompanying criteria including study preparation, protocol development, data collection, data management, data analysis, dissemination and communication.
While guidelines will not by themselves guard global health from questionable and unfair research practices, they are certainly part of a concerted effort to ensure not only mutual accountability between individual researchers, their institutions and their funders but most importantly their joint accountability towards the communities they study and society at large.