Research in global health emergencies: our call for action — Nuffield Council on Bioethics

Humanitarian Response – Research in Emergencies

Research in global health emergencies: our call for action
News 28 Jan 2020
Nuffield Council on Bioethics
Following a two-year international inquiry, we issued a Call for Action to research funders, governments, and others involved in health research systems for a more ethical and collaborative approach to conducting research during emergencies.

The Call for Action is as follows:
We want to maximise the contribution that scientifically robust, ethical research can make to improving the health of people affected by emergencies.

We are issuing a call for action to research funders, governments and others to:
:: Ensure that research is not supported unless the basic health needs of research participants are being addressed through the response effort. Research funders will need to work in partnerships with humanitarian organisations and ministries of health to ensure this.
:: Invest in putting community engagement mechanisms into emergency research to make them a reality. In the longer term, engagement must be a central part of local healthcare systems to ensure sustainability and preparedness.
:: Promote fair and equitable collaborations between research organisations, particularly between external research institutions and their local partners in high- and low-income settings.
:: Support emergency planning – including securing robust health and health research systems – given the vital importance of properly resourced preparedness between emergencies.

The Call for Action is supported by international research institutions and organisations including:
International Rescue Committee
The African Academy of Sciences
Médecins Sans Frontières UK
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Elrha – a global humanitarian research charity
Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz)
Geneva Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action
University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division


Research in global health emergencies
Nuffield Council on Bioethics
January 2020
In January 2020, we published the findings of a two year in-depth inquiry into the ethical issues relating to research in global health emergencies. The inquiry was run by an international working group which gathered evidence and experience from many contributors across the globe.

Better evidence about what helps or doesn’t help during an emergency is needed in order to improve the response to global health emergencies. Research conducted during an emergency itself plays a crucial role in obtaining this evidence, and helps support the immediate response, as well as learning for the future.

The aim of the report is to identify ways in which research can be undertaken ethically during emergencies, in order to promote the contribution that ethically-conducted research can make to improving current and future emergency preparedness and response.

We have made 24 recommendations to ‘duty bearers’ such as research funders, research organisations, governments, and researchers. These are summarised in our call for action. We suggest changes that would align their policies and practices more closely to three core values of fairness, equal respect, and helping reducing suffering. The report presents these values in the form of an ‘ethical compass’ to guide the conduct of the very wide range of people involved in research in global health emergencies.
You can download the full report, short report and overview of the report in the left-hand navigation on this page. The overview is available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. You can also read the short report online.