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Open Access Research article

Motivations and perceptions of community advisory boards in the ethics of medical research: the case of the Thai-Myanmar border

Khin Maung Lwin15, Phaik Yeong Cheah1235, Phaik Kin Cheah6, Nicholas J White23, Nicholas P J Day235, Francois Nosten123 and Michael Parker45*

Author Affiliations

1 Shoklo Malaria Research Unit, Mae Sot, Tak 63110, Thailand

2 Mahidol Oxford Research Unit, Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, Bangkok 10400, Thailand

3 Centre for Tropical Medicine, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford OX3 7LJ, UK

4 The Ethox Centre, Department of Public Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, England, UK

5 Global Health Bioethics Network, Oxford, England, UK

6 Faculty of Arts and Social Science, Universiti Tunku Adbul Rahman, Kampar, Malaysia

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BMC Medical Ethics 2014, 15:12  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-15-12

Published: 17 February 2014



Community engagement is increasingly promoted as a marker of good, ethical practice in the context of international collaborative research in low-income countries. There is, however, no widely agreed definition of community engagement or of approaches adopted. Justifications given for its use also vary. Community engagement is, for example, variously seen to be of value in: the development of more effective and appropriate consent processes; improved understanding of the aims and forms of research; higher recruitment rates; the identification of important ethical issues; the building of better relationships between the community and researchers; the obtaining of community permission to approach potential research participants; and, the provision of better health care. Despite these diverse and potentially competing claims made for the importance of community engagement, there is very little published evidence on effective models of engagement or their evaluation.


In this paper, drawing upon interviews with the members of a Community Advisory Board on the Thai-Myanmar border, we describe and critically reflect upon an approach to community engagement which was developed in the context of international collaborative research in the border region.

Results and conclusions

Drawing on our analysis, we identify a number of considerations relevant to the development of an approach to evaluating community engagement in this complex research setting. The paper also identifies a range of important ways in which the Community Advisory Board is in practice understood by its members (and perhaps by community members beyond this) to have morally significant roles and responsibilities beyond those usually associated with the successful and appropriate conduct of research.

Ethics; Evaluation; Community engagement; Community advisory boards; Developing countries; Thailand; Myanmar; Global health; International research