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Ethical considerations for health policy and systems research

by Public Health Update

Ethical considerations for health policy and systems research

A publication from the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research (WHO) with the Global Health Ethics Unit (WHO)


This document, prepared by the Global Health Ethics team at WHO in collaboration with the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, responds to a request from researchers and RECs for advice on interpreting existing research ethics principles in the context of HPSR. It lists the ethical challenges encountered in HPSR and provides a framework to guide researchers and RECs in answering some of the questions posed above when reviewing or conducting HPSR.

This document is a necessary, critical first step towards raising awareness about the unique ethical challenges that HPSR poses and advocates for comprehensive ethical guidance in HPSR for both RECs and researchers. The document provides researchers and RECs with a series of “points to consider” for clear identification, consideration and communication of ethical issues in HPSR.


The document comprises three sections: a brief overview of the field and the ethical challenges of HPSR, 14 considerations about the ethical dimensions of HPSR and six case studies in which the considerations are applied.

After reading this document, researchers will better understand relevant ethical issues in their HPSR study protocols and respond effectively to REC comments and questions; and REC members will be better able to identify aspects of an HPSR project that fall within its purview, identify ethical issues raised by the study and better communicate comments and questions to researchers.

DOWNLOAD PDF FILE: Ethical considerations for health policy and systems research. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2019. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

Related readings

Implementation Research (IR) in Health: A Practical Guide

Implementation Research (IR) toolkit(Participants Manual & Facilitator’s Guide)

For more information about Implementation Research, Opportunities and local partnership in Nepal;

Implementation Research (IR) Initiative in Nepal


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