Global Public Health
Volume 15, 2020 Issue 1
Conceptions within misconceptions: Pluralisms in an Ebola vaccine trial in West Africa
Arsenii Alenichev, Koen Peeters Grietens & René Gerrets
Published online: 25 Jun 2019
Ensuring that biomedical information about research procedures is adequately understood by participants and their communities is key for conducting ethical research. This article explores participants’ understanding of trial procedures for an experimental vaccine against Ebola virus disease (EVD) in a West African context. We found that some trial participants believed there was a chance of contracting Ebola and other sicknesses from the vaccine, and others believed both the vaccine and the placebo control would be able to prevent other illnesses than EVD. While these beliefs might be understood as misconceptions about the vaccine trial, this paper shows that such a conclusion is problematic because it excludes local explanatory health models and logics of causality. The paper invites bioethicists to work with anthropologists to take seriously different models of health knowledge in global health research. Investigating and addressing such differences could be the key to understanding human subjects’ motives for participation, and to creating space for studies of empirical ethics.