Research in Humanitarian Crises: Resources for Research Ethics Committees

A trial of an Ebola vaccine.

A study of the clinical management of crush injuries following an earthquake.

Ethnographic research on the experiences of persons displaced by war.

These examples reflect the diversity of human subject research during humanitarian crises. They also point to the potential for such research to expand our knowledge of how epidemics, disasters and wars affect human health, and how we can improve humanitarian response to these events. Yet humanitarian research is an especially complex and challenging field of inquiry, including in regard to the design and implementation of ethically robust research. Time sensitive research questions in acute crises are also a challenging fit for traditional funding and research oversight models.

Here we have compiled resources on humanitarian research ethics. Our primary goal is to support Research Ethics Committees (RECs) who are or may be involved in the review of humanitarian research. We have in mind RECs that are developing expertise and perhaps creating internal policies for humanitarian research review, as well as those looking for training resources. The resources here may also help orient REC members who have been asked to review a humanitarian research protocol and who are seeking to identify relevant guidance. The compiled resources will also be relevant to humanitarian researchers and trainees seeking information about humanitarian research ethics, or to leaders of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) examining options for research ethics support within their organization.

The repository includes the following topics (click on the section title to be brought directly to a topic).

  1. An overview of humanitarian research ethics
  2. Key guidelines, tools and frameworks for humanitarian research ethics
  3. Ethics review of humanitarian research
  4. REC policies and procedures for humanitarian research review
  5. Resources for developing training sessions on humanitarian research ethics 
  6. Fictional humanitarian research protocol for use in ethics training
  7. A bibliography of articles on humanitarian research ethics

We would also encourage you to visit the website of the Post-Research Ethics Analysis (PREA) project which also includes many resources on humanitarian research ethics.