Ethical considerations for research involving pregnant women living with HIV and their young children: a systematic review of the empiric literature and discussion

BMC Medical Ethics 22 (1):1-18 (2021)
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BackgroundThe proper and ethical inclusion of PWLHIV and their young children in research is paramount to ensure valid evidence is generated to optimize treatment and care. Little empirical data exists to inform ethical considerations deemed most critical to these populations. Our study aimed to systematically review the empiric literature regarding ethical considerations for research participation of PWLHIV and their young children.MethodsWe conducted this systematic review in partnership with a medical librarian. A search strategy was designed and performed within the following electronic databases: Ovid MEDLINE, Embase and CINAHL. We screened titles and abstracts using the following inclusion criteria: (1) a study population of PWLHIV or children under 5 years of age; and (2) collection of qualitative or quantitative data regarding ethics of research participation. Excluded were reviews, commentaries, policy statements, clinical care-related ethics concerns, abstracts, case studies, or studies unrelated to HIV research. Studies were appraised for quality, data were extracted, and studies were qualitatively analyzed using a principle-based ethical framework within the Belmont Report.ResultsOf the 7470 titles identified, 538 full-text articles were reviewed for eligibility and only three articles met full criteria for inclusion within this review. While we allowed for inclusion of studies involving young children born to mothers with HIV, only articles focused on PWLHIV were identified. Within the results of these studies, four themes emerged: (1) adequacy of informed consent; (2) consideration of paternal involvement; (3) balancing risks; and (4) access to research and treatment. A strength of this review is that it included perspectives of international research investigators, community leaders, and male partners. However, only two studies collected empiric data from PWLHIV regarding their experiences participating in researchConclusionResearchers and funding agencies should be aware of these considerations and appreciate the value of and critical need for formative research to ensure clinical trials involving PWLHIV promote ethical, well-informed research participation and, ultimately, improve care outcomes. More research is needed to create a comprehensive ethical framework for researchers when conducting studies with PWLHIV.



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