• research ethics;
  • informed consent;
  • medical publishing;
  • clinical trials;
  • patient protection;
  • developing world;
  • empirical ethics


Objectives:  We investigated how often journal articles reporting on human HIV research in four developing world countries mention any institutional review boards (IRBs) or research ethics committees (RECs), and what factors are involved.

Methods:  We examined all such articles published in 2007 from India, Nigeria, Thailand and Uganda, and coded these for several ethical and other characteristics.

Results:  Of 221 articles meeting inclusion criteria, 32.1% did not mention IRB approval. Mention of IRB approval was associated with: biomedical (versus psychosocial) research (P = 0.001), more sponsor-country authors (P = 0.003), sponsor-country corresponding author (P = 0.047), mention of funding (P < 0.001), particular host-country involved (P = 0.002), journals having sponsor-country editors (P < 0.001), and journal stated compliance with International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) guidelines (P = 0.003). Logistic regression identified 3 significant factors: mention of funding, journal having sponsor-country editors and research being biomedical.

Conclusions:  One-third of articles still do not mention IRB approval. Mention varied by country, and was associated with biomedical research, and more sponsor country involvement. Recently, some journals have required mention of IRB approval, but allow authors to do so in cover letters to editors, not in the article itself. Instead, these data suggest, journals should require that articles document adherence to ethical standards.