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Free Content Ethical issues in research in low-income countries [Leading Article]

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During the twentieth century, spectacular developments in science, technology and medical practice coupled with economic growth have transformed health care and improved the lives of many people. Despite such progress, the world today is more inequitable than it was 50 years ago: disparities in wealth and health are widening inexorably, and infectious diseases are again becoming a major scourge and pose a threat to the lives of all. Hundreds of millions of people live in degrading poverty, with little, if any, access to health care. Recognition of this context in which much research takes place should sharpen our focus on the ethical requirements for research that could improve the health of a greater proportion of the world's population—one of the most pressing moral problems of our time.

The intense debate on ethical dilemmas associated with an expanding programme of clinical research in developing countries has revealed much common ground, but has also left a residuum of controversy. We suggest that contested issues could be resolved by paying greater attention to different world views on the relationship between research and clinical care and by defining policies that both progressively improve the standard of care in research and link research to improved delivery of health care in developing countries.

Keywords: clinical research; ethics; exploitation; low-income countries

Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: Bioethics Centre, Department of Medicine, University of Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Publication date: June 1, 2007

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  • The International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease publishes articles on all aspects of lung health, including public health-related issues such as training programmes, cost-benefit analysis, legislation, epidemiology, intervention studies and health systems research. The IJTLD is dedicated to the continuing education of physicians and health personnel and the dissemination of information on tuberculosis and lung health world-wide.

    Certain IJTLD articles are selected for translation into French, Spanish, Chinese or Russian. They are available on the Union website

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