A Qualitative and Quantitative Study of Perspectives and Experiences of Bolivian Researchers, Faculty, and Students Related to Research Ethics

Annette Aalborg, Touro University California
Sarah Sullivan
Oscar Lanza
Jacqueline Cortez
Armando Basagoitia
Zachary Hathway
Jessica S. Schwind, Georgia Southern University, Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health


Presentation given at the American Public Health Association, 142nd Annual Meeting. Background: A priority goal of Bolivian public health and health science leaders is to consistently apply ethical principles in the conduct of research. Public health and health science researchers from the Universidad Mayor San Andres (UMSA), La Paz, Bolivia in partnership with researchers from Touro University California (TUC) Public Health received a NIH/Fogarty International Center Planning Grant award in June 2013 to develop a comprehensive Bolivian research ethics educational program. The initial phase of the Planning Grant focused on developing collaborations with university, governmental and civil society health leaders in three Bolivian regions. A qualitative and quantitative study was developed to assess perspectives of health scientists, researchers, faculty, students and civil society leaders related to research ethics with the goal of developing a comprehensive research ethics educational program for Bolivia.

Methods: A qualitative study conducted during 2011-2012 included self-administered questionnaires completed by participants (n=60) of a Bolivian Research Ethics symposium attended by Bolivian Ministry of Health leaders, academics, health professionals, researchers, students and community activists. In-depth interviews conducted with key informants (n=26) assessed priorities, barriers, current practices and educational needs related to research ethics. Findings informed the development of surveys administered in 2013 to health science students (n=419) and to faculty/ researchers (n=117) across three of Bolivia’s principle regional health science universities.

Results: Key informant respondents emphasized a general lack of knowledge and perception of the importance of research ethics and insufficient integration of research ethics into health science educational programs. They reported lack of infrastructural support for research ethics norms and committees. Of researchers surveyed, 16 % reported not using ethical guidelines to conduct their research and that 66% of their institutions did not consistently require ethical approval for research. A majority of respondents supported the importance of developing an infrastructure for research ethics education and consistent application of research ethics policies and practices at the national and regional level.

Conclusion: Study findings inform current efforts by Bolivian health leaders to consistently apply ethical principles in the conduct of research. An important focus of these efforts is the engagement and active participation of civil society in health research.