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Undue Influence in Research Between High-Income and Lower-Income Countries0

 

Red Thaddeus D. Miguel

According to the Belmont Report (1979), respect for persons incorporates two ethical convictions: individuals are to be treated as autonomous agents, and those with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection.

It is because of these guiding principles that we, researchers and health practitioners, are extremely careful in planning and designing our research on populations who are more likely to have diminished autonomy. We endeavour to protect vulnerable groups in our studies because their circumstances make them more susceptible to being taken advantage of. To do otherwise, according to Gillet (2008), would simply be selfish and would be acting in bad faith. In fulfilment of their mandate, ethics review boards likewise have clear guidelines in the protection of vulnerable populations. Unlike protocols for the protection of minors, pregnant women, prisoners, terminally ill, intellectually challenged, and militarized to name some of the most common guidelines for vulnerable populations, guidelines for impoverished population may be more difficult to construct. As laid out by the Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice (1996, p.8), impoverished persons may have the propensity to be unduly influenced by the expectations of benefits associated with participation. But how does one judge whether a token for participation is enough to influence the decision of a person? For children, for example, being below a certain age is understandably a reason to protect the child’s interest and warrants the use of assent forms. However, for the economically disadvantaged drawing the line is more difficult to assess.

Some studies have questioned whether incentives impair the ability of participants to make decisions about risk. These claims have cited the studies of Halpern et al. (2004) and Bentley and Thacker (2004), which find participants are not likely to forego the risks of participation when offered greater compensation.However, these findings were based on hypothetical enrolment and were done with small sample sizes. More important for this discourse, however, is that these studies were done in developed countries. In a study by Kass et al.(2005), participants of studies implemented in developing countries (LMICs) were noted not only to be facing challenges in understanding the study protocol thus affecting their autonomous decision making, but were also noted to participate primarily because of the incentives presented.As Benatar (2002) notes great disparities exist in health and wealth between developed and developing countries and therefore ethical standards must take into consideration the differences and adapt to the rising level of research in developing countries.

Recognizing the imbalances of power, resources, and knowledge that exist in the setting of research between high-income and lower-income, the Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings (2018) outlines guidelines to avert ethics dumping in lower-income setting. Article 6 of the guidelines tackle specifically the topic of compensation and benefits, ‘Researchers from high-income settings need to be aware of the power and resource differentials in benefit-sharing discussions, with sustained efforts to bring lower-capacity parties into the dialogue’.

Coming from an LMIC, I could not agree more with the guidelines set. In gauging the amount for benefits, one has to be careful with the amount being paid to participants for their involvement so as not to cause undue influence to those who wish to participate in the study; including the local parties into the dialogue is therefore vital to upholding ethical standards. What is acceptable in one country may cause undue influence in another, especially to economically disadvantaged persons in LMICs. Moreover, even within the LMIC itself, interactions between researchers from a high-income region and participants from a low-income area likewise pose some problems and therefore knowing the local factors that could cause undue influence is important.

In the Philippines for example, a number of factors are involved when it comes to deciding the amount of compensation. For example, the daily minimum wage in one area of the Philippines is 265.00 Philippine Pesos (~AUD7), while in other areas this could be as high as 512.00 Philippine Pesos (~AUD13). For this reason, I have been involved in a study that handed out supplies worth 40 Philippine Pesos (~AUD1), yet in another study we thought it was appropriate to hand out 1,000 Philippine Pesos (~AUD25). In making our decision as to how much to pay participants, we conduct our research based on the principles set forth by the Philippine Health Research Ethics Board’s National Ethical Guidelines for Health and Health-Related Research (2017, p.20):

35.4 Research participants shall be reimbursed for lost earnings, travel costs, and other expenses incurred when taking part in a study. Where there is no prospect of direct benefit, participants may be given a reasonable and appropriate incentive for inconvenience. The payments shall not be so large as to induce prospective participants to consent to participate in the research against their better judgment (undue inducement).

With this we make sure that our computation includes all the components set forth by this guideline, thus we try to include lost earnings, reimbursement for travel, incentives, and other expenses incurred by the respondent. In valuing exactly how much each of these costs, we don’t have a memorandum on the exact cost to follow instead we rely heavily on the nature, population, and area of the study.

Upon discussing this topic with two of my colleagues I find that we share similar techniques in estimating the value of each of the cost. Other researchers in the country may have different techniques, but the following are a few of the methods I have compiled from discourse with my colleagues on how to approximate the amount to compensate the participants.

  1. First, we get to know the population of interest very well. This includes taking into consideration the cultural, historical, and geographic background of the region, province, city, municipality, and town. Towns inhabited by people of a certain religion for example should not be brought a specific type of food. Another example could be that because of the terrain of a certain town, getting to the interview may mean riding a motorcycle for an hour. Knowing this we will be able to estimate the reimbursement of travel better.
  2. Different areas at different times of the year will have different needs as well. Therefore, we make sure to take this into consideration. For example, if we know that classes are about to start in one area, we might offer school supplies to participants. Similarly, if it is the rainy season, one could probably give out umbrellas to respondents.
  3. Knowing the region, a general rule of thumb one of my colleagues utilizes is to base his computation on the regional minimum wage published and updated by the Department of Labor and Employment. Using the published minimum wage, he then computes the hourly wage and makes this the maximum compensation for every hour of participation.
  4. Another practice done is to discuss the amount with local government units. Talking to the officials in the town, we are able to gauge the average income of their residents as well as the usual occupation in the area.
  5. We also take into consideration the type of study being done and the inconvenience it could cause. For example, a more difficult questionnaire asking very specific points in the timeline of the patient’s disease may warrant higher compensation than a simple demographic survey.
  6. We talk to researchers or local data collectors who have done studies with the same population, or who have undertaken the same method. Knowing how the respondents reacted to a specific amount of bother fee in the past gives us a benchmark for our studies.
  7. During the conduct of pre-testing our tools, we likewise ask our colleagues for an estimate that they believe would be a reasonable compensation for participants who would answer the questionnaire.

After we have the appropriate ‘bother fee’ in mind, we then submit this to the research ethics committees responsible for the study area. We are then given feedback whether the amount is appropriate and reasonable.

This system seems to be working largely because of the safeguards and competency of local research ethics committee and partly because of our familiarity with the system being locals ourselves. However, I cannot help but wonder how the increasing number of research projects in developing countries can affect this process. With more studies being done in LMICs maybe there is now a need to perform research into this area specifically on the exact amount or situations wherein undue influence can unintentionally occur. For example, with the theories of colonial mentality, does research done by non-Filipinos affect the responses or even influence the participation of respondents in studies done in the Philippines? Due to the volatile weather in the Philippines affecting the prices of commodities every month, does the bother fee deemed appropriate in one month still assure that there won’t be undue influence in the other months? Does the status of diplomatic relations between other countries and the Philippines affect the decision of participants when dealing with researchers from another country? Are there undue influences caused by the perception of Filipinos about certain companies funding the studies?  Will the reputations of certain institutions or organizations leading the study cause participants to participate even if normally they would not have agreed to do so? Could certain areas in the Philippines be more susceptible to undue influence than other areas due to the large gaps in income and health services between regions? Knowing these may be helpful to local researchers and those who wish to do studies locally by providing us with evidence-based standards that could guide our data collection process away from undue influence.

The author declares that he has no affiliations with or involvement in any organization or entity with either financial or non-financial interest in the subject matter or materials discussed in this manuscript. The author has no conflict of interest.

Bibliography

Benatar SR (2002) ‘Reflections and recommendations on research ethics in developing countries’, Social Science & Medicine,1131–1141.

Bentley JP and Thacker PG (2004) ‘The influence of risk and monetary payment on the research participation decision making process’, Journal of Medical Ethics,200430293–298.

Gillett G (2008) ‘Autonomy and selfishness’Lancet, 372(9645):1214-5. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61507-X

TRUST Project (2018) Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings.http://www.globalcodeofconduct.org/ (Accessed September 8, 2018).

Halpern SD, Karlawish JHT, Casarett D, Berlin JA and Asch DA (2004) ‘Empirical assessment of whether moderate payments are undue or unjust inducements for participation in clinical trials’, Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, 164801–803.

International Conference on Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Registration of Pharmaceuticals for Human use (June 10, 1996)ICH Harmonised Tripartite Guideline, Guideline for Good Clinical Practice E6(R1) Current Step 4 version. Available at: https://www.ich.org/fileadmin/Public_Web_Site/ICH_Products/Guidelines/Efficacy/E6/E6_R1_Guideline.pdf (Accessed September 8, 2018).

Kass NE, Maman S and Atkinson J (2005) ‘Motivations, Understanding, and Voluntariness in International Randomized Trials’, IRB: Ethics & Human Research, 27(6):1-8.

National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (1978) The Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research. Bethesda, Md.: The Commission. Available at: https://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/regulations-and-policy/belmont-report/read-the-belmont-report/index.html (Accessed August 20, 2018).

Philippine Health Research Ethics Board (2017) National Ethical Guidelines for Health and Health-Related Research, Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, p.20. Available at: http://www.ethics.healthresearch.ph/index.php/phoca-downloads/category/4-neg?download=98:neghhr-2017 (Accessed September 8, 2018).

Contributor
Red Thaddeus D. Miguel, Health Policy Researcher, Ontario, Canada
LinkedIn profileredasmph@gmail.com

This post may be cited as:
Miguel, Red TD. (27  September 2018) Undue Influence in Research Between High-Income and Lower-Income Countries. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/undue-influence-in-research-between-high-income-and-lower-income-countries

We invite debate on issues raised by items we publish. However, we will only publish debate about the issues that the items raise and expect that all contributors model ethical and respectful practice.

Justice in Human Research Ethics: A Conceptual and Practical Guide0

 

Pieper, I. & Thomson, C.J.H. Justice in Human Research Ethics: A Conceptual and Practical Guide, Monash Bioethics Review I Volume 31, Number 1, 2013 pp 99-116: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF03351345

A Series on the Four Principles of the Australian National Statement on Ethics Conduct in Human Research

In this issues of the Research Ethics Monthly, Ian Pieper and Colin Thomson continue their series of short summaries of each of their four co-authored articles on the principles that underpin the Australian National Statement, namely, research merit and integrity, justice, beneficence and respect.

The articles were originally published in the Monash Bioethics Review and remain available to subscription holders to that journal. The publisher, Springer, has generously agreed to place each of the four articles on Free Access for one month after the corresponding short summary is published in the Research Ethics Monthly. Last month they revisited the paper on Contextualising Merit and Integrity within Human Research. This month they revisit the paper on the principle of justice as it applies to human research. The full paper can be found here.

Researchers are required under the National Statement to demonstrate to ethics review bodies that their proposed human research projects are just. Members of ethics review bodies are responsible for determining whether or not proposals for human research demonstrate the principle of justice. This paper explores the historical development of the concept of justice within human research ethics and how it came to be one of the four basic values on which the National Statement is based.

Justice is now accepted as one of the core values to be applied in a review of the ethics of human research. However, justice is a multi-facetted concept and not easily defined. Justice means different things to different people depending on the context and circumstances. In paragraphs 1.4 and 1.5 the National Statement describes justice using examples such as; fairness in relation to the distribution of burdens and benefits, and guarding against the exploitation of participants. Throughout the document, the National Statement revisits the concept of justice to provide guidance on how it might be demonstrated in particular contexts.

The inclusion of justice as a requirement in the ethical review of human research largely stems from the Belmont Report. It was there that particular cohorts of participants first began to be identified as being exploited by researchers. Its utility as a principle was highlighted during the debates arising from the conduct of international biomedical research in the late 1990s, especially in their collection of research data from lower or middle income countries and use or the benefit of the populations of higher income countries. Given its relatively recent addition to the human research ethics discussion, what constitutes just research is still an evolving concept.

An activity sheet about research ethics committees and the evaluation of justice has been added to the AHRECS subscribers’ area. It includes notes for presenters. By becoming a patron you will get access to all the subscription material (with new items added every month). The material is posted on a creative commons basis so it can be loaded onto your institution’s servers for use in your in-house professional development activities. A subscription of USD15 per month (approx AUD20) grants access to all material. Subscribers can make requests for the topics for future activity sheets. AHRECS can provide a statement for paid subscriptions (for your accounting purposes). To subscribe visit https://www.patreon.com/ahrecs.

In this paper, the origins and recent debates about the requirement to consider justice as a criterion in the ethical review of human research are traced, relevant conceptions of justice are distinguished and the manner in which they can be applied meaningfully in the ethical review all human research is identified.

Justice is not only a consideration for researchers, but also for the integrity of the conduct of the evaluation process. Questions of justice can be seen as subjective. The concept of justice – whether distributive or commutative – and what counts as a just distribution or exchange – are given different weight and meanings by different people. Decisions need to be seen to be even handed, transparent, comparable, and inline with both community expectations and the guidance material. In this the National Statement acts as the common lexicon for these discussions. This paper explores and explains the specific paragraphs relating to justice throughout the National Statement.

Throughout the document, the National Statement highlights areas to be considered during the review of applications in relation to the justice aspects. It also provides guidance to researchers as to how they can demonstrate that there is a fair distribution of burdens and benefits in the participant experience and the research outcomes so that paragraphs 1.4 and 1.5 of the National Statement are satisfied. This paper provides practical guidance to researchers on how to articulate issues of justice so that it is evident in the design of their research project.

Contributors:
Ian Pieper, AHRECS Consultant, Ian’s AHRECS profile
Colin Thomson AM, AHRECS Senior Consultant, colin.thomson@ahrecs.com | Colin’s AHRECS profile

This post may be cited as:
Pieper, I & Thomson C. (24  September 2018) Justice in Human Research Ethics: A Conceptual and Practical Guide. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/justice-a-summary

We invite debate on issues raised by items we publish. However, we will only publish debate about the issues that the items raise and expect that all contributors model ethical and respectful practice.

 

How do we ‘do’ consent?0

 

This blog post expands on ideas from our recent publication: McWhirter, R. E., & Eckstein, L. (2018). Moving Forward on Consent Practices in Australia. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, 1-15.

Recently I participated in a research study. With the research nurse sitting opposite me expectantly, I moved quickly to sign in the appropriate place.

Hang on a minute. I’m a researcher, and an HREC member. I’ve published papers on informed consent, for goodness’ sake. I know better than this. Dutifully, I went back to the information sheet to read it properly.

After a couple of lines, I got bored and started scanning for key phrases. What will they do with my data? Which HREC approved this? Am I signing myself into eternal servitude?

Oh, who am I kidding, I thought. I’ve already made my decision. So, I just signed it, the research nurse smiled, and we got on with it.

Research suggests that I am not alone in my reaction to consent forms. They are boring, sometimes bordering on impenetrable. HRECs blame researchers for not writing in plain English. Researchers blame HRECs for being too inflexible and demanding a ridiculously long list of things to be included in a rigid format. There’s probably some truth on both sides, as well as some misunderstanding. And so, we end up with long, boring and ultimately unhelpful consent documents.

This is not to suggest that everyone is doing consent badly. There are lots of examples of research groups working with communities – whose members are usually potentially vulnerable in some way – to develop consent materials or processes that actually meet the needs of participants. Sometimes the solutions are technological– involving multimedia tools to overcome literacy or language barriers – and sometimes structural – such as by undertaking consent over several visits, so that individuals can decline to participate either by saying no or by avoiding the researchers, which can be an important option in communities where this is considered a more culturally acceptable method for refusal.

So, consent doesn’t have to be boring.

But what of the other problem indicated by my experience above? I had already made up my mind to participate before I’d been given the information sheet. Those with experience in study recruitment will know that I’m not unusual in this respect either. Depending on how the recruitment is undertaken, first contact might be a phone call, an email or letter, or a face to face conversation. In most cases, there will be some kind of blurb that precedes a participant’s reading of the consent documents and this is largely what people are basing their decision on.

These initial contacts are difficult to standardize (and it’s not necessarily desirable to do so) and difficult for HRECs to review, especially if they are verbal. A lot depends upon the character of the person doing the recruiting (usually a research nurse or research assistant rather than a principal investigator).

For one study in remote Aboriginal communities that I was involved in, I undertook several months of community consultation prior to commencing recruitment. I worked with community members to develop the study design and consent materials, employed local research assistants, and was helped enormously by senior women from each community. The relationships we developed meant that the study better met the needs of the communities, was more ethically sound (complying with both the National Statement and Values and Ethics) and resulted in a wider range of benefits than would otherwise have arisen.

These relationships also created trust between us. And that no doubt had an effect on our recruitment. The women liked me and wanted to help me. I had the support of influential elders. And by the time we got to use our carefully designed audio books, with information recorded in multiple dialects and with culturally relevant illustrations, most participants had already heard about the study, either from the community meetings during the consultation phase or through word of mouth. Although I stressed that participation was voluntary, and they were welcome to say no, everyone I invited agreed to participate.

So, what was the point of informed consent here? Well, it’s still polite to ask. The process of consultation that preceded it was effectively a form of community consent. And although individual decisions were probably influenced by their relationship with me and other study team members, these participants arguably had a greater understanding of the study than many participants in studies using more traditional methods.

I’m not sure there is a perfect way to ‘do’ consent. But it helps to be aware that the process is wider than just the consent documents. Providing training and ongoing team-based reflection for recruiters would help to address concerns over the quality of the less formal elements of consent. And it would be useful for HRECs to recognize the value of community consultation and consumer engagement in the study design phase, and to be open to non-traditional approaches to undertaking consent, rather than focusing unduly on the precise wording of consent forms.

We can’t ‘protect’ participants from researchers through mandating lists of information to be conveyed through formal documents, but we can encourage a culture of ethical research that better addresses community interests by reflecting on what we’re actually doing when we ‘do’ consent.

Contributor
Rebekah McWhirter
Centre for Law and Genetics, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania
http://www.utas.edu.au/profiles/staff/law/rebekah-mcwhirter

This post may be cited as:
McWhirter R. (26  August 2018) How do we ‘do’ consent?. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/how-do-we-do-consent

We invite debate on issues raised by items we publish. However, we will only publish debate about the issues that the items raise and expect that all contributors model ethical and respectful practice.

Contextualising Merit and Integrity within Human Research: A Summary0

 

Pieper, I and Thomson, CJH (2011) Contextualising Merit and Integrity within Human Research, Monash Bioethics Review,Volume 29, Number 4, pp 15.1 – 15.10 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF03351329

A Series on the Four Principles of the Australian National Statement on Ethics Conduct in Human Research

In this and succeeding issues of the Research Ethics MonthlyIan Pieper and Colin Thomson will present short summaries of each of their four co-authored articles on the principles that underpin the Australian National Statement, namely, research merit and integrity, justice, beneficence and respect.
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The articles were originally published in the Monash Bioethics Review and remain available to subscription holders to that journal. The publisher, Springer, has generously agreed to make each of the four articles available through SharedIt links which will be listed in each of the REM summaries. This month, we start with research merit and integrity.

The scientific merit of a project is an ethical issue because in our culture and society, participation in research is not obligatory. Accordingly, when people choose to offer themselves as research participants, they do so out of a sense of altruism.  We agree with the argument that this choice should be based on sufficient information about and belief in the purpose of the research.  Central to this is that the research has merit: that it is of value.

For any research to realise that value, it must be designed so that the results are recognised as being true or meaningful: that is, that the research has validity. The validity of research rests on the principles and processes of scientific, academic and disciplinary traditions relevant to the project and researchers need to show ethics review bodies that their project conforms to them.

Although ethics review bodies are not scientific review bodies, they do need to be satisfied that the research that they approve has merit so that involvement of human participants is ethically justified.

Judging the value and validity of a project, and being satisfied that the research has value and validity are two different exercises. When, in the review of a proposed project, formal scientific or disciplinary peer review processes are relied on, the distinction is clear. In this situation, the human research ethics review proceeds on the premise that the research has merit – that is, has value and validity.

The Australian National Statement lists six components of research merit that can be summarized as:

  1. Potential benefit,
  2. Methods appropriate to the project aims and discipline,
  3. Scientific basis,
  4. No compromise of respect for the participants,
  5. Adequately experienced, qualified and competent researchers and
  6. Appropriate facilities and resources.

The National Statement lists four components of research integrity:

      1. Searching for knowledge and understanding means that research is conducted openly and consistently with, or builds on, established principles and so provides rigour.
    An activity sheet about research ethics committees and the evaluation of scientific merit has been added to the AHRECS subscribers’ area. It includes notes for presenters. By becoming a patron you will get access to all the subscription material (with new items added every month). The material is posted on a creative commons basis so it can be loaded onto your institution’s servers for use in your in-house professional development activities. A subscription of USD15 per month (approx AUD20) grants access to all material. Subscribers can make requests for the topics for future activity sheets. AHRECS can provide a statement for paid subscriptions (for your accounting purposes). To subscribe visit https://www.patreon.com/ahrecs.
  1. Following recognised principles of research conduct, so that researchers need to show that the proposed methods are recognized by the relevant discipline, are suitable and that the researchers competent in their use.
  2. Conducting research honestly, so that researchers are transparent about their aims and motivations. Otherwise, for example where a financial motive is concealed, recruitment would fail to fully inform participants, removing their ability to provide informed consent.
  3. Disseminating and communicating results is necessary because when findings are not published, participants’ contributions are devalued. Accordingly, human research ethics review bodies should insist on suitable disclosure of findings. What constitutes suitable disclosure should, in part, be determined by the need to respect the contribution made by participants.

Researchers can satisfy these requirements by fulfilling their primary responsibility (National Statement 5.2.5) for showing that their research has merit, not only by providing scientific and methodological discussion about the project, but also explaining the value of the project and its worth.

Ethics review bodies need to be assured that research has merit. Accordingly, researchers can make their lives easier by taking time to understand the evidence that will satisfy an ethics review body as to that merit and providing that evidence clearly, concisely, and accurately.

Contributors:
Ian Pieper, AHRECS Consultant, Ian’s AHRECS profile
Colin Thomson AM, AHRECS Senior Consultant, colin.thomson@ahrecs.com | Colin’s AHRECS profile

This post may be cited as:
Pieper, I & Thomson C. (22  August 2018) Research Ethics in Australia: A Story. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/contextualising-merit-and-integrity-within-human-research-a-summary

We invite debate on issues raised by items we publish. However, we will only publish debate about the issues that the items raise and expect that all contributors model ethical and respectful practice.