Ethical Challenges in Short-Term Global Health Training
CASE 9: Selecting a Research Project

In summary, research is commonplace in short-term training programs in global health. This is true in medicine, public health, engineering, and many other disciplines.

By exploring this case, we have learned several important lessons regarding the ethical issues arising when trainees in short-term training programs conduct research.

  1. Collaboration in advance of the research can help ensure it is scientifically valid, responsive to local needs, and ethically designed and conducted. Many times, research needs many months of advanced preparation for a successful collaboration.

  2. This case involved several potentially competing aims: Bryce’s career goals, the interests of his home advisor, the sponsor’s funding choice, and the local priorities. In general, local priorities should take priority when designing a research project.

  3. Lastly, trainees, sending and host institutions, and sponsors should all be aware that research is subject to IRB and local ethics committee oversight. When questions arise or changes to the research occur, it is imperative to contact these oversight bodies for advice and approval.

This case has not covered all the ethical issues arising when research is part of a short-term training experience abroad. However, it did emphasize one of the most critical ethical questions trainees, sending and host institutions, and sponsors face when conducting research in this setting: What is an appropriate research project, and how does one balance potentially competing priorities?

Additional Resources

A growing literature exists on the ethics of research conducted in international settings. For those interested in pursuing this topic in depth, we recommend the following:

In addition, several areas might be worth exploring in greater depth as case studies in the challenges of international research:

  • Recently, the United States discovered a series of historical studies in which vulnerable populations in Guatemala were intentionally given sexually transmitted infections. This has prompted apologies from the U.S. government, and an examination by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. See:



© Stanford University Center for Global Health and the Johns Hopkins University Berman Institute of Bioethics.

Project funding provided by Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF)