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Health Promot Pract. 2011 Jan;12(1):86-93. doi: 10.1177/1524839908330809. Epub 2009 Apr 3.

The role of community health workers (CHWs) in health promotion research: ethical challenges and practical solutions.

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Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program, University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


This article aims to describe the role of community health workers (CHWs) in health promotion research and address the challenges and ethical concerns associated with this research approach. A series of six focus groups are conducted with project managers and investigators (n = 5 to 11 per session) who have worked with CHWs in health promotion research. These focus groups are part of a larger study funded by the National Institutes of Health titled "Training in Research Ethics and Standards" (Project TRES). Participants are asked to describe their training needs for CHWs with respect to human subject protections as well as to identify associated challenges regarding research practice (i.e., recruitment, random assignment, protocol implementation, etc.). Findings reveal a number of challenges that investigators and project managers encounter when working with CHWs on research projects involving the community. These include characteristics inherent to CHWs such as education level and personal beliefs about their own community and its needs, institutional regulations regarding research practice, and problems inherent to research studies such as training materials and protocols that cannot account for the complexity of conducting research in community settings. Investigators should carefully consider the role that CHWs have in their communities before creating research programs that depend on the CHWs' existing social networks and their propensity to be natural helpers. These strengths could lead to compromises in research requirements for random assignment, control groups, and fully informed consent.

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