The problem of firearm violence has been growing and now is escalating into a worsening public health challenge by virtue of its increasing frequency. As we witness yet another massacre of people resulting from firearm violence in the USA, the need for our profession’s engagement becomes ever more pressing. Our sympathies and support are extended to the families and communities directly affected by the most recent tragedy in Florida. INEP is taking action and has been working on a Policy Brief concerning how epidemiologists might contribute much needed evidence to guide policies to address this preventable public health problem. As an international network, we can learn from our members across the globe about what could help in the prevention of harms to public health from firearm violence.
INEP, being the international policy voice for epidemiological societies, recognizes that vexing issues of conflicting interests and disclosure exist in the daily work of epidemiologists and other related public health researchers and practitioners. As public health professionals, we see this as a significant challenge that we need to address.
The focus by epidemiologists on Conflict-of-Interest (COI) and Disclosure is not new. Indeed, concerns about COI and Disclosure (COI&D) have been addressed by a number of our professional organizations. For instance, the American Public Health Association (APHA), the American College of Epidemiology (ACE), the Canadian Society for Epidemiology and Biostatistics (CSEB), and the International Epidemiological Association (IEA) either have COI guidelines, or they have begun to develop such guidelines to help inform their members in order that they may successfully avoid COI pitfalls.
More recent efforts on the development of COI guidelines were driven by the need for our member societies to determine guidelines for disclosure while INEP was developing its 2012 Position Statement on Asbestos. At that time (2011 – 2012), our member societies depended on inconsistent and unclear policies to address the challenges related to COI and disclosure. This variation is illustrative of the need for INEP to take a proactive approach in developing a Position Statement on Conflict-of-Interest and Disclosure with proposed policies, disclosure guidelines and templates that could be either adopted or adapted by interested member societies.
INEP is taking the proactive step of addressing the issue of COI and Disclosure (COI&D), not only to help us as professionals to understand and navigate our way through COI&D questions, but also to maintain the trust of the public, as well as of our federal, state/provincial, and international governing bodies. We are working to maintain our professional credibility so that our voices on policy matters will continue to be respected, embraced and valued.
INEP comprises representatives from a growing number of epidemiology societies. It is therefore in a position to work with these epidemiology societies to develop a Position Statement on Conflict-of-Interest and Disclosure through a consensus-building process.
INEP initially appointed a Working Group with Interim Working Group Leader, Colin Soskolne, Chair of INEP, Manley Finch, Secondary American Public Health Association Board representative and Secretary to INEP, and Eduardo Franco, Primary International Epidemiological Association Board representative. The Working Group was then expanded to include Leah Phillips, an Interested Party on the Board, as Co-Chair with Colin Soskolne. Working Group Members were added as follows: Carl Cranor, Secondary Collegium Ramazzini Board representative; Fiona Sim, Primary Royal Society for Public Health Board representative; Amy Davis, Tertiary American Public Health Association Board representative; and Bruce Lanphear, Primary International Society for Children’s Health and the Environment Board representative. A student representative is expected to be added to the Working Group in March 2015. The goal of this Working Group is, in the next year, to develop a Position Statement on Conflict-of-Interest and Disclosure with guidelines, policies and disclosure document templates that will harmonize and modernize approaches to address COI&D for epidemiologists. It is anticipated that this Position Statement will be of use across INEP member societies, as well as other professional public health-related societies. A working version of the Terms of Reference (TOR) for the Working Group was finalized in March 2015.
Member societies of INEP are welcome to submit anything that relates to the topic of Conflict-of-Interest and Disclosure.
Please send your material/suggestions to the Working Group Co-Chair at email@example.com.
It is anticipated that other public health societies having an epidemiologic component and that are not yet members of INEP may see great advantage in some level of collaboration as we work on this project. Such collaboration would be welcome.
The need for epidemiologists to be reminded of their mission (i.e., to protect the public interest over any other interest) gains focus through several examples that have recently entered the public domain. We bring this topic forward to encourage discussion with a view to thoughtful consideration about what, if anything, we should, can and/or need to do in order to conform to ethical norms that will advance epidemiology at the research-policy interface.
Kathleen Ruff, INEP Expert Adviser, published an article Scientific journals and conflict of interest disclosure: what progress has been made? in Environmental Health. The article made it to the top 10 of 2015 articles read in Environmental Health.
As noted above, submissions from member societies of INEP relating to the topic of conflicting interests are greatly appreciated and should be sent to the Working Group Co-Chair at firstname.lastname@example.org.