Nuffield Council on Bioethics response to International Development Committee Sub inquiry into the philosophy and culture of aid.



September 2021


As you may know the Nuffield Council on Bioethics is an independent organisation that examines and reports on ethical questions raised by advances in biological and medical research. We aim to inform policy through timely and thorough consideration of ethical implications, engaging a wide range of people in discussion to ensure that the benefits of developments in bioscience are well-aligned with public values.


Our response to your sub inquiry into the philosophy and culture of aid is based on our Global Health Emergencies report that we published last year. It was a two-year collaborative project, carried out with the support of an international working group and involving stakeholders in over thirty countries. Our findings subsequently strongly informed guidance by the WHO on conducting research ethically during the COVID 19 pandemic.


By its nature, this inquiry was particularly concerned with the role of research in responding to (and in helping prevent/mitigate) global health emergencies. Our comments therefore relate primarily to UK overseas aid funding in so far as this has been an important funding stream, supporting urgently needed global health research. Our response is focused on research funding but we believe there are many parallels with development aid particularly when used directly for service provision and development.


The main questions we address from your terms of reference are:-




The practical recommendations from our report are based on an ‘ethical compass’ (pp6-7) made up of three core values:




These three values emerged strongly from the evidence obtained throughout the enquiry, including from researchers in many countries, and from those who had direct experience of being research participants in emergencies (including Ebola survivors’ leaders from Liberia and Sierra Leone). They underpin an approach to research in emergencies based on equal respect for directly-affected communities, and recognition of their ability (and right) to be at the heart of decisions that affect them.


Recommendations that flowed from this, and that are directly relevant to your inquiry, include:





The UK has had a strong global reputation in supporting respectful and inclusive community engagement in global health research (see e.g. the work of NIHR global health), and in working in partnership with institutions in other countries. The recent cuts in ODA funding for research were devastating, both in cutting projects of great importance at both national and global level (e.g. related to climate change and emergency preparedness) that were already underway, and in undermining trust built up over many years in partnership work with UK institutions.


We hope that this inquiry will draw attention to the central importance of providing funding in ways that help build back trust in the UK as a funder and partner in essential global health research. We would be happy to provide more detail or evidence to the committee if helpful.


Danielle Hamm


Nuffield Council on Bioethics