Blog #2 Spencer Moros
Lesotho is a small developing country contained within South Africa. You and your team of academic researchers (10 in all) are spending the next two weeks traveling to different communities throughout Lesotho to test water sources for disease-causing pathogens. The testing you need to do is simple but requires significant assistance from the community – showing your team all the different locations where individuals get their water from, and places/methods for storing the water. You do not see the need to pay the community members, considering if someone asked you about your water source, you would not mind driving them up to the lake! The ultimate goal of the project is to understand the lifecycle and characteristics of a specific pathogen, which is found only in this region of Lesotho. Several publications are expected from this research study. A comprehensive profile of this pathogen can help in many ways including development of chemical additives to make the water safe to drink. Is it ethical to conduct this research study? What will you do next?
Waterborne diseases attribute for a wide range of detrimental conditions. It is advantageous to know exactly what pathogen is responsible because it informs decisions about treatment of the conditions caused (eg. effective antibiotics for gram negative bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa which causes infections) and what can be done to mitigate the pathogen’s presence in the water. Testing takes time and money. Water testing must be conducted at a variety of locations and timepoints: retrieval from source, storage, and consumption. This requires direct participation from the community to show/explain to provide accurate results. The researchers are seeking to produce reproducible, accurate data to better understand the microbiota of the water source for publication. The location of the research is Lesotho where evidence of water pathogens is present.
The stakeholders of such a situation are:
- Community + Individuals: drink, bathe, use irrigate with water source, testing what pathogens are present informs them what precautions they should take to reduce the detrimental impact of water consumption or what treatments are appropriate for conditions caused by drinking the water
- Individuals directly working with: may be compensated in some way (food, transportation, etc.)
- Researchers: testing provides data for publishing in academic papers
- Government: provide funding for water infrastructure and subsidize healthcare costs
- Funding Source: paying for expenses of research may be due to different returns: more funding for future outreach, hoping to sell product (water treatment / filtration), build better relationship with Lesotho, etc.
- Healthcare Providers: tertiary party not directly impacted however improving water supply may lead to less stress on infrastructure, devote resources elsewhere
- Academic Journal: tertiary party research is groundbreaking and will lead to more revenue and respect form academic community
- Provide transportation and some accommodations to people who assist researchers
- Pros: motivation for those who help
- Cons: may lead to individuals who want to go “above and beyond” and actually provide misleading information, difficulty choosing who should help: needs most assistance, has most knowledge (lead to people unwilling to assist if they do not receive same as others)
- Find water samples on own
- Pros: does not involve the issues presented with involving locals
- Cons: takes much more money, effort, and time by researchers, may not find correct locations, would need to conduct much more testing instead of isolating where water is taken from and stored, may give locals impression that researchers are invading to get data and get out, reduces the positive impact of the research, no betterment of relationship
- Do not compensate the locals: make contact as they are doing what they normally would (specifically getting water)
- Pros: no one feels like they are being treated unfairly compared to other locals,
- Cons: no motivation to assist except the possibility of research improving water source, make locals feel as they are being taken advantage of
This case is very complex in that the action of conducting the research does not generate an immediate positive impact on the locals as a distributed experimental device. It is a more conceptual benefit in that in the future it may lead to further investment and a solution being put into place. There is no real best answer as to what is the best course of action, however one solution I believe rises above the rest based on my personal moral compass
I believe the best thing to do is to compensate the villagers. By doing such, the villagers would be motivated to help. A way to combat the cons of this strategy is to use multiple people to verify the information provided and standardize what is given. In order to solve the issue of choosing the individuals to help one should go to respected individuals in the village and ask who they believe is best fit and most knowledgable to help with the assessment of the water. Respected individuals will have personal biases, however they hopefully will have the community’s best interest in mind. By providing accommodations to those who help it will better the researcher-community relationship allowing for even better interactions in the future and make the people feel as though they are not being exploited.
By implementing this venture the society’s technological level will be raised and the health of the community will be increased because everyone drinks water. Also, the environment may also be increased once the pathogens are cleared from the water.