Global health ethics

11th Global Summit, 16-18 March 2016, Berlin, Germany

The 11th biennial forum for national bioethics committees held in Berlin, Germany from 16-18 March 2016 was attended by 125 participants and brought together representatives of National Ethics Committees of 83 countries. The Summit theme, Global Health, Global Ethics, Global Justice, set the stage for plenary discussions on emerging and converging technologies; epidemics and outbreaks - introducing WHO draft guidelines; bioethical policies and bioethical law; and raising social awareness on bioethical issues including education, media and communications. The participants of the 11th Summit warmly received and accepted the offer from Senegal to host the 12th Global Summit in Dakar.

Bioethics - Global Health Ethics Seminar


Surveillance is one of the most fundamental activities of public health, involving diverse practices in areas such as non-communicable disease registers, outbreak investigations, infectious disease, health systems research, and digital surveillance. The 6th Global Health Ethics webinar will highlight the lack of surveillance in many situations, discuss an upcoming WHO guidance document, the ethical issues that could arise, and explore how to ethically balance the objective of data collection to serve public health goals with the obligation to protect the privacy of citizens. To hear our expert panel consider these issues through a case study approach, and take part in the discussion.

Ethics support during the Ebola outbreak 2014

WHO staff visiting the Coyah  Ebola Treatment Centre, Guinea
WHO/P. Kouta

As a reaction to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, WHO convened an expert consultation to consider and assess the ethical implications of using unregistered interventions that showed promising results in the laboratory/animal models. The group supported the use of investigational interventions during this outbreak under certain conditions.

Following the meeting, an Ethics Working Group was established to address further ethical issues arising in the context of the emergency including fair distribution of investigational interventions and ethical ways to collect data while providing optimal care under the circumstances of scarcity.

Developing guidelines for public health surveillance

UN Photo/P. Goudvis

Surveillance is one of the most fundamental activities of public health, involving different areas and practices such as non-communicable disease registers, outbreak investigations, and health systems research. Public health surveillance raises multiple ethical issues concerning, among others, the use/non-use of informed consent or the provision/non-provision of standards of care.

In 2014 WHO launched a project to develop WHO Guidelines on Ethical Issues in Public Health Surveillance, and for this purpose established an international Guideline Development Group. Several expert meetings have taken place, and the guidelines are expected to be published in 2016.


About ethics and health

The Global Health Ethics Unit provides a focal point for the examination of ethical issues raised by activities throughout the Organization. The unit also supports Member States in addressing ethical issues that arise in their own countries. This includes a range of global bioethics topics; from public health surveillance to developments in genomics, and from research with human beings to fair access to health services.

This unit’s work is particularly important in the context of contemporary health challenges and raises and addresses difficult questions in areas such as resource allocation, new technologies, decision-making in clinical care and public health.

WHO Research Ethics Review Committee (ERC)

The ERC ensures that WHO only supports research of the highest ethical standards. The ERC reviews all research projects, involving human participants supported either financially or technically by WHO.


Global Health Ethics Unit
Department of Information Evidence Research
World Health Organization
20, Avenue Appia
CH-1211 Genève 27