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- International research
- social justice
- standard of care
- fair benefits
- community engagement
- moral progress
- international affairs
Following promulgation of the Nuremberg code in 1947, the ethics of research on human subjects has been a challenging and often contentious topic of debate. Escalation in the use of research participants in low-income countries over recent decades (stimulated by the HIV pandemic and the need to carry out clinical trials expeditiously on large numbers of patients), has intensified the debate on the ethics of international research and led to increasing attention both to exploitation of vulnerable subjects and to considerations of how the 10:90 gap in health and medical research (ie, 90% of resources being spent on 10% of the problems) could be narrowed.
In 2000, prompted by the discussions over several years that led to the US NIH launching a capacity building programme on research ethics for members of research ethics committees in developing countries, we advanced a ‘new look’ for the ethics of international research.1 Since then progress has been made on several fronts.
First, our ideas—considered somewhat radical and impractical at the time—have been provocatively addressed by scholars who have either contested them or advanced similar conceptions of what obligations international researchers have to research participants and communities in low income countries before, during and after clinical trials. Second, those researchers who have been sympathetic to our ideas have either endeavoured to put these into practice or have investigated the feasibility of doing so. Third, the intractability of the 10/90 gap and the escalation of interest in global health have sensitised many to the need to amplify the uptake of these ideas in practice.
Here, we briefly review the conceptual and practical developments in international research ethics. While much conceptual progress has been made (and the concepts are now appearing …
Funding Provided by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation by a grant to PAS through the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative. SRB was funded in part by a US NIH Fogarty International Center Grant (Grant 1R25 TW06057).
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Readers' attention is drawn to an article published since this editorial was submitted: Parker M, Bull S. Ethics on collaborative global health research networks. Clin Ethics 2009;4:165–8.
An expanded version of this editorial, with permission from the Journal of Medical Ethics (BMJ journals), is available at the following website: http://www.mrcglobal.org/.