Practices of obtaining informed consent in Lebanon and Qatar: a disconnect between standards and practice
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With the increasing number of universities in the Arab region, there has been a consequent increase in the number of research projects conducted particularly with human subjects. Despite the need to understand the application of ethical standards that ensure human subjects are protected from harm, few studies have evaluated and documented such practices in applied research ethics in the Region to date. One of the main requirements of proper ethical conduct in research is to obtain informed consent from research participants prior to commencement of any research activity. Guidelines in obtaining informed consent are standardized by IRB committee operations and oversight procedures. This study explores experiences of researchers, in universities in Lebanon and Qatar, in obtaining informed consent, which is an aspect of interest of a large research study that explores applying research ethics, cultural relevance of applied ethical standards, and surveys on procedures and operations of IRBs. Findings from over 45 in-depth interviews with researchers in both countries indicate multiple variations in seeking and obtaining participant informed consent as well as the terminology used regardless of the presence of IRB oversight Terms used include "information forms", "consent letters", "mini", "oral" , "verbal" , "written", "passive" and "long" consent forms. Their choice of consent seeking method and form seems to be influenced by study sample size, research methods, their judgment of how invasive the research is (biomedical vs. social), the ease of access to research participants, the research participants themselves (vulnerable or not), the context , and setting where the research is taking place. Implications point to the need for research capacity building to improve the quality of research and the application of research ethics for the protection of human subjects and their rights as participants in research.
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