Rigorous Clinical Trial Design in Public Health Emergencies Is Essential

Clin Infect Dis. 2018 Apr 17;66(9):1467-1469. doi: 10.1093/cid/cix1032.


Randomized clinical trials are the most reliable approaches to evaluating the effects of new treatments and vaccines. During the 2014-2015 West African Ebola epidemic, many argued that such trials were neither ethical nor feasible in an environment of limited health infrastructure and severe disease with a high fatality rate. Consensus among the numerous organizations providing help to the affected areas was never achieved, resulting in fragmented collaboration, delayed study initiation, and ultimately failure to provide definitive evidence on the efficacy of treatments and vaccines. Randomized trials were in fact approved by local ethics boards and initiated, demonstrating that randomized trials, even in such difficult circumstances, are feasible. Improved planning and collaboration among research and humanitarian organizations, and affected communities, in the interepidemic periods are needed to ensure that questions regarding the efficacy of vaccines and treatments can be definitively answered during future public health emergencies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Africa, Western / epidemiology
  • Control Groups
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Emergencies*
  • Ethics, Research*
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / drug therapy
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Public Health*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / standards*
  • Research Design / standards*