Are students kidding with health research ethics?
This 2012 paper Are students kidding with health research ethics? The case of HIV/AIDS research in Cameroon by Munung et al raises an important issue of student projects on sensitive health issues – and ethics approval to cover their work.
The researchers describe tracing back student projects on HIV to see if ethical issues were addressed and if ethics approval was required and sought.
Although focusing on HIV research in Cameroon, many of the issues around teaching, support and training about health research ethics are relevant worldwide. Indeed I’d argue that for student projects at masters level taught on social and health degrees in the West understanding ethics and robust screening by ethics committees could be better.
I do wonder whether the focus on the student is perhaps slightly unfair and other structural issues (including at tutor, institutional and healthcare organisation level) need just as much attention. I also wonder about the pressures put upon students, particularly if they are doing their projects while also working for charities, NGOs or health agencies, might encourage them to cut corners.
The researchers make some recommendations around health research and ethics (see below) – what do you think of these suggestions? Could you implement them? What do we need to do to improve ethics teaching for students in the health and social sciences?
“The main reasons for this situation could be that i) there is no systematic training in research ethics in Cameroon universities and ii) supervisors/senior researchers do not appreciate or are not aware of the importance of research ethics and, consequently, fail to mentor their students or trainees appropriately about it or they simply push it to the background. It is therefore essential that training in HRE be incorporated in the curriculum of universities in Cameroon in order to bring up the next generation of scientists equipped with a thorough knowledge and practice of HRE. Also, guide- lines for writing student theses should include at least a statement requiring students to show proof of ethics ap- proval in their theses, if the research involves human participants. This, we believe, would be one way of fighting the occurrence of research scandals, many of which probably result from negligence and ignorance rather than from deliberate intention. Equally recommendable is the introduction of standardized continuous education and refresher courses in research ethics for both junior and senior researchers in Cameroon.”