Research ethics review during the COVID-19 pandemic: An international study

A research team, led by Principal Investigators Professor Maxwell Smith (Western University, Canada) and Professor Ross Upshur (University of Toronto, Canada), in collaboration with the World Health Organization COVID-19 Ethics & Governance Working Group, is conducting a survey to better understand how ethics review committees operated worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The research team notes that ethics review committees have faced major challenges during the pandemic due to increased workload, high-pressure time constraints, changing priorities, and logistical hurdles.

Pandemic-specific challenges were compounded in contexts with fragile health systems, poor infrastructure, and little experience of medical research. In response to these challenges, many ethics review committees adjusted their operational processes and developed innovative strategies to ensure rapid but thorough reviews of study protocols.

In this study, the researchers aim to identify any changes that ethics review committees implemented to adapt to the pandemic, particularly in terms of:

  • modifying existing procedures;
  • designing and implementing new processes;
  • diversifying membership, especially in terms of inviting external experts;
  • accelerating research protocol review;
  • securing emergency support (including funding); and
  • strengthening local and international collaboration with other ethics review committees.

This study also seeks to determine whether these changes were evaluated, and whether ethics review committee members believe any of these changes should become permanent, as part of their procedures and processes.

Co-investigators of the study are: Dr Fabio Salamanca-Buentello, Project Coordinator (Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Sinai Health System, and Western University, Canada); Prof. Diego Silva (University of Sydney, Australia); Dr Kerry Ellen O’Neill (Western University, Canada); Dr Michael Montess (Western University, Canada); Dr Ana Komparic (Public Health Agency of Canada); and Ms. Rachel Katz (University of Toronto and Western University, Canada).

The results of the study will be shared widely, including with key decision-makers worldwide.

Interested in participating in the study?

The research team invites chairs and members of ethics review committees, research ethics boards, and institutional review boards affiliated with diverse types of institutions and organizations (such as academic institutions, government, health care, industry, and non-governmental organizations) from countries in each World Health Organization region, who have participated in the review of research protocols related to COVID-19, to participate in this study.

Participation involves responding to an online, multiple-choice questionnaire that takes about 15 minutes to complete. If you are interested in participating and meet the inclusion criteria, you can find the letter of information and consent, with link to the confidential online survey here.

The deadline for survey participation is Friday, November 11, 2022.



Notify of
Inline feedback
View all comments