What empirical research has been undertaken on the ethics of clinical research in India? A systematic scoping review and narrative synthesis to map the evidence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Introduction: The post-2005 rise in clinical trials and clinical research conducted in India was accompanied by frequent reports of unethical practices, leading to a series of regulatory changes. We conducted a systematic scoping review to obtain an overview of empirical research pertaining to the ethics of clinical
trials/research in India.

Methods: Our search strategy combined terms related to ethics/bioethics, informed consent, clinical trials/research and India, across nine databases, up to November 2019. Peer-reviewed research exploring ethical aspects of clinical trials/research in India with any stakeholder groups was included. We developed
an evidence map, undertook a narrative synthesis and identified research gaps. A consultation exercise with stakeholders in India helped contextualise the review and identify additional research priorities.

Results: Titles/abstracts of 9699 articles were screened, full text of 282 obtained and 80 were included. Research on the ethics of clinical trials/research covered a wide range of topics, often conducted with little to no funding. Studies predominantly examined what lay (patients/public) and professional participants
(e.g. healthcare staff/students/faculty) know about topics such as research ethics or understand from the information given to obtain their consent for research participation. Easily accessible groups, namely ethics committee members and healthcare students were frequently researched. Research gaps included
developing a better understanding of the recruitment-informed consent process, including the doctor-patient interaction, in multiple contexts and exploring issues of equity and justice in clinical trials/research.

Conclusion: The review demonstrates that while a wide range of topics have been studied in India, the focus is largely on assessing knowledge levels across different population groups. This is a useful starting point, but fundamental questions remain unanswered about informed consent processes and broader
issues of inequity that pervade the clinical trials/research landscape. A priority-setting exercise and appropriate funding mechanisms to support researchers in India would help improve the clinical trials/research ecosystem.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBMJ Global Health
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 24 Feb 2021

Cite this