Research ethics preparedness during outbreaks and public health emergencies: Focus on community engagement.

Raffaella Ravinetto, Joyce Adhiambo, Joshua Kimani

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Abstract

Research represents an essential component of the response to infectious disease outbreaks and to other public health emergencies, whether they are localised, of international concern, or global. Research conducted in such contexts also comes with particular ethics challenges, the awareness of which has significantly grown following the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Zika outbreak in Latin America and the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges include the need for implementing meaningful community engagement with the researched communities, not just to build unidirectional trust towards the research team, but to achieve a genuine and mutually respectful partnership before, during and after the research. Here, we describe the real-life experience of 10 well-established research clinics in Nairobi, where a successful experience of community engagement linking prevention and care to research was interrupted during the COVID19 pandemic. We contrast this experience with the concept and processes of community engagement as described in selected scientific manuscripts and guidelines, to formulate some conclusions and recommendations. We contend that more action is needed, from research ethics committees and other key-research stakeholders, to align policies and practices with ethics guidance and with evidence-based recommendations from the academic literature, to achieve meaningful community engagement during emergency research, irrespective of the scale and location of an outbreak or public health crisis. Failure to do so, will aggravate the (postcolonial) asymmetries of power in global health and local systems.
Original languageEnglish
JournalResearch Ethics
ISSN1747-0161
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2024

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