Public perceptions on Controlled Human Infection Model (CHIM) studies—a qualitative pilot study from South India

Monash Bioethics Review 39 (1):68-93 (2020)
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Abstract

Research using Controlled Human Infection Models is yet to be attempted in India. This study was conducted to understand the perceptions of the lay public and key opinion makers prior to the possible introduction of such studies in the country. 110 respondents from urban and rural Bangalore district were interviewed using qualitative research methods of Focus Group Discussions and In-depth Interviews. The data was analyzed using grounded theory. Safety was a key concern of the lay public, expressed in terms of fear of death. The notion of infecting a healthy volunteer, the possibility of continued effects beyond the study duration and the likelihood of vulnerable populations volunteering solely for monetary benefit, were ethical concerns. Public good outcomes such as effective treatments, targeted vaccines and prevention of diseases was necessary justification for such studies. However, the comprehension of this benefit was not clear among non-medical, non-technical respondents and suggestions to seek alternatives to CHIMs repeatedly arose. There was a great deal of deflection—with each constituency feeling that people other than themselves may be ideally suited as participants. Risk takers, those without dependents, the more health and research literate, financially sound and those with an altruistic bent of mind emerged as possible CHIM volunteers. While widespread awareness and advocacy about CHIM is essential, listening to plural voices is the first step in public engagement in ethically contentious areas. Continued engagement and inclusive deliberative processes are required to redeem the mistrust of the public in research and rebuild faith in regulatory systems.

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