Community engagement is increasingly promoted to strengthen the ethics of medical research in low-income countries. One strategy is to use community advisory boards (CABs): semi-independent groups that can potentially safeguard the rights of study participants and help improve research. However, there is little published on the experience of operating and sustaining CABs. The Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU) has been conducting research and providing healthcare in a population of refugees, migrant workers, and displaced people on the Thai-Myanmar border for over 25 years. In 2009 SMRU facilitated the establishment of the Tak Province Community Ethics Advisory Board (T-CAB) in an effort to formally engage with the local communities both to obtain advice and to establish a participatory framework within which studies and the provision of health care can take place. In this paper, we draw on our experience of community engagement in this unique setting, and on our interactions with the past and present CAB members to critically reflect upon the CAB’s goals, structure and operations with a focus on the practicalities, what worked, what did not, and on its future directions.
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