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How do you determine compensation for research participation?

Naira and dollar
Naira and dollar


By Morenike Oluwatoyin Folayan and Elhadji Mbaye

In answering the question of how to determine compensation for research participation, the onus lies on institutional review boards to determine the appropriateness of compensations for injury suffered during research participation. This injury may be physical, financial, emotional or social.

Often times, research make compensations for financial loss resulting from time spent on the research. This often include transport reimbursement resulting from the need to travel down to the research site to participate in research.

Members of the Network for Ethics Committees operating in West Africa, during its meeting held between September 25 and 2017, had an unresolved dilemma: how to determine what is the right compensation for study participants?

They also recognise that beyond compensation for injury, participants may also be given incentives to motivate for study participation.

But then, how do ethics committee objectively define which incentive would not act as being coercive or cause undue inducement especially in a community where $1 makes a significant difference to a population with large number of people living below the poverty line?

Very recently, a joke circulated on the social media showing that for Nigerians who save N1.00 everyday, (s)he saves only $1.00 at the end of 365 days  of saving. The devaluation of the Naira also has implications for determination of compensation for off-shored research.

A joke showed the implication of such devaluation. A Nigerian employed in the civil service 33 years ago earned $800 monthly. Now 33 later, his salary is only the equivalent of $500.

Undoubtedly, the question of appropriate compensation and incentives have been a lingering question.

Brandon Brown of the Public Health, Department of Population Health and Disease Prevention, at the University of California, Riverside, California, had written several articles to try and address these issues.

He recognized the place of offering material incentives as an effective means of encouraging individuals to participate in research studies and it helps to fairly compensate participants for time and effort. Under certain conditions, it is ethically justifiable. He acknowledges that there are few empirical data for defining undue influence of incentives in research, including the possible coercive effects of medical benefits.

Undue inducement is also difficult to judge. Empirical studies of appropriate compensation and incentives have been difficult as most research do not report this.

Brown and his colleagues proposed that funders should be required to report about research-related compensations in protocols registered in public spaces like the ClinicalTrials.gov, and for researchers and editors to ensure that incentives are disclosed in publications.

While his recommendations may be of great help in the development of empirical studies that may help institutional review boards make decisions in the near future,  in the present, they will still need to make subjective decisions about this based on intuition, consultations and review of existing and accessible documents.

One way forward is to require that all researchers should discuss about appropriate compensation and incentives during community engagement programmes that take place during the research protocol development process.

Evidence of such consensus decisions on appropriate compensation and incentives should be attached to submitted protocols. The ethics board can then begin to develop its own database on what may be appropriate compensation and incentives for different types of studies conducted in the community they serve.


Morenike Oluwatoyin Folayan is of New HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Advocacy Society (NHVMAS), Nigeria.

Elhadji Mbaye is of IRESSEF, Senegal.




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