Health crises – both localized outbreaks and pandemics – are periods characterized by urgency, uncertainty and anxiety. They can weaken existing health care structures and result in major disruption to the institutional frameworks that organize our societies.
During a health crisis it is vital to carry out relevant research to generate new biological and medical knowledge, giving scientists the tools they need to respond effectively to the emergency situation and identify reliable preventive options (e.g. vaccines) and therapeutic solutions (drugs).
But research of this nature raises a number of questions as to the ethical and legal frameworks that need to be applied if it involves individuals, biological samples and/or personal data. Are the usual guidelines still applicable? Are there specific procedures for such a situation? How can information be disseminated widely? Is consent still required? If humanitarian aid is needed, how can it be effectively coordinated with research efforts? Should research results be shared via methods that are quicker than traditional publication channels? How should results be reported back to participants?
To help answer these questions, the Institut Pasteur Ethics Unit, which offers specialist research support on ethical issues, has produced a helpful information sheet with a visual guide to the main issues and recommendations that need to be taken into consideration when conducting research during health emergencies. The document is based on internationally recognized ethical recommendations (CIOMS, WHO).