Key guidelines, tools and frameworks for humanitarian research ethics

In the past five years, many important resources have been developed which specifically focus on humanitarian research ethics. We have compiled some key resources below.

Resource Short description and link
Research Ethics Tool, Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises, 2017 This tool was designed to prompt reflection about ethical dimensions of disaster research studies. It includes a series of questions that researchers, RECs and other stakeholders, can ask in seeking to identify ethical aspects of research. Questions are organized by phase: before the research, during the implementation of the research, after the research. Available at:
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Research Ethics Framework, 2013 The Ethics Review Board of MSF created this framework to provide guidance for researchers conducting studies that are linked to MSF projects in humanitarian settings. It consists of questions, along with some prescriptive guidance, to encourage critical reflection about the ethics of conducting humanitarian research. It is available at:
Guideline 20: Research in Disasters and Disease Outbreaks. CIOMS, 2016 For the first time in a major international research ethics guideline, a section has been added on humanitarian research. In the latest review of the Council of International Organizations of Medical Sciences’ guidelines on human subject research, guideline 20 identifies eight core obligations for research in humanitarian settings, and provides explanatory commentary. The full guidelines are available here, with Guideline 20 on pages 75-78:
Guidance for managing ethical issues in diseases outbreaks, World Health Organization (WHO), 2016 This guidance document was created with the goal of supporting policy-makers, clinicians and researchers prepare for ethical issues arising during disease outbreaks. Guideline 8 addresses research during outbreaks, but other sections discuss other relevant topics including data sharing, storage of biological samples, and emergency use of unproven interventions. It is available here:
Training manual on Ethics in epidemics, emergencies and disasters, WHO, 2015 This training manual addresses ethics of research, patient care and surveillance during crises. It presents a teaching curriculum that can be used by individuals or in a group setting. Notably, there are also accompanying power point slides which can be used in classroom teaching settings. The first section of the manual addresses issues arising in research. It is available at:

For further reading on this topic, and to access a comprehensive bibliography of research ethics guidelines, we suggest reading Mezinska et al’s systematic review.