Ethical challenges in conducting research in humanitarian crisis situations

  • J Mfutso-Bengo
  • F Masiye
  • A Muula


Research is vital to accurately describe phenomena in humanitarian emergency situations and to evaluate the effectiveness and appropriateness of interventions. Although the ethical principles of justice, beneficence and respect for autonomy/ respect for persons should be upheld in research, their application in emergency situations may differ from non-emergency situations. Just like in non-emergency situations, research in emergency situations should be conducted in the best interest of the victims or future victims. The research should not unnecessarily expose human subjects and the researcher to careless harm, and should be of adequate scientific rigor. Victims of emergency situations are vulnerable populations that need special protection from exploitation. Technical competency to conduct research in emergency situations should include the ability to conduct a fair risk-benefit assessment in order to come up with a risk management plan, and being culturally sensitive to the needs of the victims of the humanitarian crisis. In emergency situations, the roles of Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) may have to be modified without compromising the ethical standards that health researchers have globally attempted to achieve.

Malawi Medical Journal Vol. 20 (2) 2008: pp. 46-49

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eISSN: 1995-7262
print ISSN: 1995-7262