Strengthening Health Research and Ethics Systems in Timor-Leste

Nelson Martins, Caetano Gusmao, Dirce Soares, Meri Laot, Salvador Amaral, Julia Messner, Jennifer Yan, Joshua Reginald Francis

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Introduction: Meaningful health research should lead to evidence-based decision-making that can be translated into policy and practice. Every country needs to have a well-functioning and resourced ethics review and clearance system to ensure health and medical research is conducted in line with ethical standards, preventing harm to research participants, and contributing to better health outcomes and national priorities. The purpose of this study is to describe the origins of the system for managing health research and ethics in Timor-Leste and how it has evolved over time; to identify the strengths and limitations of the current system; and to recommend areas for improvement.

Materials and Methods: A narrative review of the literature (published papers, gray literature, and unpublished data) was conducted alongside key informant interviews with 15 Ministry of Health (MOH) policymakers and National Institute of Health staff between October 2020 and March 2021. 

Results: The system for managing health research and ethics in Timor-Leste has remained largely the same since it was first established in 2009, with some adaptations to cope with a progressively increasing workload. Main findings include: the Department of Research and Studies (DRS) oversees complex ethics approval process in addition to other responsibilities; the DRS lacks the legal authority, policies, and procedures to help implement its full range of functions and responsibilities; national research priorities should be identified; MOH experiences difficulties in securing funding to support health research; training in health research, ethics and governance is an important priority for DRS.

Conclusion: It is timely and important to invest in strengthening key components of health research and ethics systems in Timor-Leste. Despite limited resources, improvements can be achieved in key areas with focused assistance and collaboration with local, national, and international partners.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-70
Number of pages8
JournalWHO South-East Asia journal of public health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2023


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