The role of male partners in women's participation in research during pregnancy: a case study from the partners demonstration project.
Ngure K., Trinidad SB., Beima-Sofie K., Baeten JM., Mugo NR., Bukusi EA., Heffron R., John-Stewart G., Kelley MC.
The exclusion of pregnant women from health research remains a significant challenge globally. In settings where cultural traditions and gender norms support a more restricted decision-making role for women in general, little is known about the attitudes of male partners toward the inclusion of women in research during pregnancy. Understanding the expectations of both men and women in such cultural settings offers an opportunity to engage and address local ethical concerns to improve women's access to research during pregnancy and enhance intervention development. In this paper, we present a qualitative research ethics case study, drawn from the Partners Demonstration Project of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in Kenya, regarding the role of male partners in decision-making to continue PrEP during pregnancy. PrEP is an effective HIV prevention tool; however, since pregnant women were excluded from early PrEP clinical trials, safety and efficacy data during pregnancy are limited. Given continued high rates of HIV infection for women, some pregnant women are now being provided with PrEP or are involved in PrEP research. Men and women in our study were equally concerned about the health risks of PrEP to the fetus and depended on healthcare provider guidance to understand these risks. Because the demonstration project enrolled couples, an implicit social expectation for many women's continuation of PrEP during pregnancy was consultation with male partners. Some women reported that consenting to participate was exclusively a woman's decision; however, many reported that they deferred to their male partner's opinion and support during the decision-making process. Most male partners believed women should not participate in research studies without their partner's permission, while a few men believed participation was ultimately a woman's decision. We suggest that relational autonomy can support a middle ground for informed consent that promotes women's autonomy while accommodating partner engagement.