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Ethical oversight is crucial in academic research, especially when dealing with human subjects. In many countries, Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) provide this oversight. However, in some regions like Iran, no formal IRB system exists. I am interested in understanding this question:

What ethical considerations should be considered when using data collected from human subjects in Iran, where there is no IRB?

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That is a great question! It does not only affect Iran but several other countries. We have an epidemiological database that was built in the late 1990s. We still use it today sometimes for certain epidemiological questions / papers. Yes, we still publish with it after 30 years. Opportunities, however, have grown thin. The reason is that many journals require an IRB number. If you cannot provide one, you cannot publish. It is that simple. We had that multiple times now. Imagine the situation: one did nothing wrong but is punished for a lack of standards in a certain country. Of course things changed over the years, however, it is very costly and sometimes impossible to get retrospective approval. To summarize things, please consider the following points:

  • although an IRB might not exist at this stage in your part of the world, you likely have access to online resources and may still be able to draft your protocol in the best way possible (e.g. with regard to participant rights, data protection, etc.)
  • although an IRB might not exist, you should still obtain written and oral consent from every single study participant (!)
  • always (always!) contact the respective journal before submitting your paper and ask the editor whether he would still consider your manuscript despite the circumstances. Else you will experience a lot of frustration.

Finally, I see tons of papers from Iran in my field - many of them have an IRB number. Could you contact researchers from other universities?

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