Project blog

Perceptions of research conducted during the 2014-15 Ebola crisis

Grant awarded: £169,825

Lead organisation: McMaster University, Humanitarian Health Ethics Research Group

Project length: 2016-2018

Study locations: West Africa: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone

Principal Investigator: Elysée Nouvet, PhD
Lisa Schwartz, PhD

  • Decontaminated gloves and boots drying at an Ebola treatment centre, Sierra Leone, Soring 2015 @John Pringle

  • Ebola public health mural outside Université de Sonfonia, Guinea


To what extent were WHO and international research ethics guidelines lived as feasible, sufficient, or best practice within culturally and otherwise diverse national and sub-national West African contexts during the West Africa Ebola crisis? This qualitative study explores what upholding, or trying to uphold, standards of ethical research actually meant and looked like during the Ebola outbreak, in the eyes of those directly involved in this research or its oversight.

Specifically, our goals are:

(i) To deepen understanding of challenges of ensuring the ethical conduct of research during public health emergencies, with particular attention to the rolling out of clinical trials
(ii) To learn how Ebola quarantine and isolation disease control measures, such as voluntary consent, interacted with ethical standards of research interventions in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia
(iii) To add evidence to existing recommendations for the ethical conduct of research in public health emergencies

Progress and outcomes achieved:

This study is designed and positioned to inform contextually-sensitive guidance, oversight, and preparedness for the ethical conduct of research in future humanitarian crisis settings.
By clarifying the complexities and challenges of conducting research in distinct African humanitarian crisis settings, and including the perspective of patient/participants and their families, this study will make a substantial contribution to the evidence-base currently informing disaster and public health emergency research ethics. Findings of this study will be made accessible to a broad academic and non-academic audience, and will include articles, policy recommendations, case studies in French and English.


Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110).

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