Recovering from the Unethical Past of European and U.S. Research Abroad – Part 3 of 3

A man drives medical equipment to a health facility for Operation United Assistance. "Medical support equipment for Operation United Assistance" by US Army Africa is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Despite its current glory internationally, Pfizer and other pharmaceutical organizations allowed for unethical practices to shape the global understanding of international research.

International research done by United States’ or European researchers in the global South has historically attracted globally mobile adults and allowed them to raise TCKs. While documented cases of ethical and meaningful work done by researchers from the U.S. and Europe exists, unethical practices continue to leave a mark on how communities and scientists interact. Considering how important new medical innovations are, acknowledging the need for ethical conventions is necessary for the global community.

Pfizer sign and logo on a brick stand. There are orange and red flowers underneath the sign and the background is mostly green with grass and pine trees.
The Pfizer sign in Montgomery County, Penn., U.S. “Pfizer Sign II” by Montgomery County Planning Commission is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

In the past few decades, ethical research practices have come to the forefront of the conversation on human experimentation. Drug company Pfizer was sued after 11 children died during a meningitis drug trial according to the Guardian. The 1996 drug trail resulting in this came just 15 years after the West African Research Center was founded.

A video about the Nigerian community impacted by the botched Pfizer drug trial.
Credit to Al-Jazeera News.

Medical Abuse and Its Impact on International Researchers, Their Families, and Local Communities

The in-depth documentation of U.S. and Europe’s history of abuse towards residents of the global south and minoritized populations in their own countries through research has caused immense harm. While the past 40 years have brought immense change towards medical ethics and safety, the damage done to the international community remains.

Communities may experience distrust when contacted about medical trials or new medicines available for illnesses including HIV/AIDS, Ebola and polio. As a result, the children of long-term researchers struggle to connect meaningfully in their communities.

“Our inability to initiate basic public health measures to reduce the disease burden among people in West Point who had major sanitation problems meant that death was normal. Why should they believe that these new deaths were due to a new phenomenon called Ebola? When Ebola services were introduced in West Point, many people interpreted these efforts, such as holding centers, as a government strategy to introduce Ebola to the population because of its political views.”

Mosoka P Fallah’s personal account of distrust during ebola, via the BMJ

According to the BMJ, community distrust of medical research and services has had disastrous consequences on global health. In some instances, attacks targeted Ebola treatment centers and vaccination teams. Their conclusion in this collection of experiences with the Ebola virus focuses on how building trust can support health care communities and save lives.

The Movement Towards Ethical Research and Reshaping Scientist-Community Interactions

A Brief Explanation of Basic Ethical Principles of Human Experimentations

Due to vaccine trials’ role in saving lives globally, scientists have spent decades working to develop a system of ethics. Through ethical work, scientists can begin acting to create connections with communities. While building ethics systems is important, it’s not fool-proof. Without a clear system of ethics requiring information on methods, we are harming both the participants and the scientific community.

TCK children of researchers are an important voice in the ethics conversation. Unlike scientists, TCKs often interact with children and adults who may not be participating in research. Their unique relationship to local regions may allow for them to give a positive understanding of research to communities, and encourage transparency from the researchers they interact with.

For part one of this series, click here. For part two, click here.


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