Blog Post Week 2

In this case study, we analyzed the ethical decision of a group of 11 academic researchers to travel to Lesotho, South Africa to study a rare pathogen only found in several Lesotho communities. While traveling to these different communities, the researchers will need assistance from the community members to bring them to their water sources. The goal of the research is to understand the lifecycle of this pathogen and produce several publications. After the pathogen is studied, there is potential for others to create chemical additives that will make the drinking water in Lesotho safer. The major ethical question being analyzed in this case study is whether or not these community members should be compensated for their assistance in the project, and if so how?

The stakeholders and their motivations in this case study are as follows:

  • The 11 academic researchers are hoping to travel to Lesotho to gather enough valid data to publish articles that discuss their research, giving them technical credibility and experience that they can utilize in their future.
  • The academic institution funding these students is also a key stakeholder. By funding these students’ trip to Lesotho, the institution is expecting that the publications produced will bring publicity and academic prestige to the institution. 
  • The community members living in Lesotho are motivated to allow the researchers to investigate their water source because they want to know more about the pathogen living in their water, rather than being left in the dark.
  • The local government in Lesotho allowing the researchers to come into their communities want to make sure that no one is taking advantage of their people, land, or resources.
  • The publicists are hoping to gain quality research that will lead to successfully published papers. These publications will bring publicity to their company and will be a source of knowledge for anyone that is hoping to further research or develop a chemical additive to eliminate the pathogen.

There are a few alternative solutions to this question:

  • Do the study and pay the community members a small rate
    • This solution based on duty-based ethical principles keeps the community happy, creates strong relationships, and motivates community members to cooperate and help in any way they can. However, paying the community members may lead to expected payment in every future experience and is more costly than other solutions.
  • Complete the study without paying or compensating the community in any way
    • A consequence-based solution, this solution aims to maximize the benefits of the situation. The advantages to this solution are that expenses are reduced and gives the researchers more leniency with the money provided by the institution or through grants. The disadvantages are that this may lead to uncooperative community members and gives the institution a bad reputation in country.
  • Do not pay the community members, but mention the communities in the publications.
    • Finally, this virtue-based solution to the original question attempts to keep everyone involved in the situation happy. 
      • Pros: The communities mentioned will be the first to receive the chemical additive if it is ever produced.
      • Cons: The chemical additive may never be produced and therefore may keep the community members waiting, most members of the community who do not have access to internet will never see the publications.

This summer in Sierra Leone, the Malnutrition team had experience with both paid and unpaid translators. During our experience, we hired three translators, who were fantastic. They came each day excited to help us and were extremely helpful during interviews. We also had two unpaid interns that were assigned to our team. These interns worked hard, but were often unreliable. There were multiple days when our interns didn’t show up and we were left with less translators than we were expecting. In my experience, it was best to pay the people we worked with.

In my opinion, the best course of action is to pay the community members a small wage to help perform the study. I think this solution has the most advantages and least disadvantages. Most likely, the cost of paying these community members will not increase the expenses too drastically. By paying the people, they will be motivated and excited to help the researchers to achieve their goals and will create relationships that could be beneficial in the future. This will also give the most valuable and accurate data in the shortest amount of time. The other solutions discussed involve not paying the helpers or paying them through reference in publications. In my opinion, these are both basically the same solution. The community will not see any benefits from either of these options and will therefore not be as eager to help the researchers gather the best data available. 

By paying community members, I believe that people will be motivated to help the project in any way they can. This will provide the most accurate data, which was the primary goal for all stakeholders in the project. To prevent the expectation that foreign researchers will always pay the community members it will be important to brief the workers before they are hired as to the specific reason they are being paid. Also, a general hourly wage will need to be established prior to travel so that there is no confusion or competition. Additionally, it will be important to get in contact with a government official with experience in the country’s water source. They will most likely be able to give us a list of reliable contacts to use in-country.

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