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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Ethical considerations related to participation and partnership: an investigation of stakeholders’ perceptions of an action-research project on user fee removal for the poorest in Burkina Faso

Matthew R Hunt12*, Patrick Gogognon3 and Valéry Ridde34

Author Affiliations

1 School of Physical and Occupational Therapy, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

2 Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Rehabilitation, Montreal, Canada

3 Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Montreal School of Public Health, Montreal, Canada

4 Research Centre of the University of Montreal Hospital Centre (CRCHUM), Montreal, Canada

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BMC Medical Ethics 2014, 15:13  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-15-13

Published: 20 February 2014



Healthcare user fees present an important barrier for accessing services for the poorest (indigents) in Burkina Faso and selective removal of fees has been incorporated in national healthcare planning. However, establishing fair, effective and sustainable mechanisms for the removal of user fees presents important challenges. A participatory action-research project was conducted in Ouargaye, Burkina Faso, to test mechanisms for identifying those who are indigents, and funding and implementing user fee removal. In this paper, we explore stakeholder perceptions of ethical considerations relating to participation and partnership arising in the action-research.


We conducted 39 in-depth interviews to examine ethical issues associated with the action-research. Respondents included 14 individuals identified as indigent through the community selection process, seven members of village selection committees, six local healthcare professionals, five members of the management committees of local health clinics, five members of the research team, and four regional or national policy-makers. Using constant comparative techniques, we carried out an inductive thematic analysis of the collected data.


The Ouargaye project involved a participatory model, included both implementation and research components, and focused on a vulnerable group within small, rural communities. Stakeholder perceptions and experiences relating to the participatory approach and reliance on multiple partnerships in the project were associated with a range of ethical considerations related to 1) seeking common ground through communication and collaboration, 2) community participation and risk of stigmatization, 3) impacts of local funding of the user fee removal, 4) efforts to promote fairness in the selection of the indigents, and 5) power relations and the development of partnerships.


This investigation of the Ouargaye project serves to illuminate the distinctive ethical terrain of a participatory public health action-research project. In carrying out such projects, careful attention and effort is needed to establish and maintain respectful relationships amongst those involved, acknowledge and address differences of power and position, and evaluate burdens and risks for individuals and groups.

Action-research; Burkina Faso; Ethics; Participatory research; Partnership; Research ethics; User fees