Global health ethics

Ethical issues in global health

These are some public health areas where WHO is involved in providing leadership and guidance on the ethical issues involved.

Earthquake Haiti 2010, multimedia area on Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief
  • Outbreaks and emergencies
    Ethical concerns associated with the planning, preparedness and response to future pandemics are important to consider, ensuring that response efforts are not hindered in the event of a pandemic.
Health research ethics.
  • Research ethics
    Research ethics govern the standards of conduct for scientific researchers.
Surveillance ethics.
  • Surveillance
    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.
Ethics of tuberculosis care and control.
  • Tuberculosis care and control
    Ethical issues include questions about the equitable distribution of resources, protection of vulnerable groups, respect for patient choice of treatment options and solidarity between communities during outbreaks.
An organ is being removed during surgery.
A doctor is opening an HIV test, Research centre on narcology, Moscow, Russia
    The HIV epidemic has raised many ethical challenges for public health officials, researchers and clinicians, reaching from macro-level policy to micro-level clinical decisions.
  • Health Systems and Implementation Research
    The planning and conduct of Health Systems and Implementation Research raise several distinct ethical issues, such as acceptable standards of care especially in control groups, ancillary care responsibilities , and community engagement.
  • Biobanking
    The collection, storage and dissemination of samples and specimen comes with a set of difficult issues regarding governance and ethical oversight.
  • Immunization
    Immunization raises a host of challenging ethical questions that researchers, governments, funders, pharmaceutical companies, and communities must confront.
  • Good governance in medicines
    Ethical and efficient governance mechanisms are essential for the pharmaceutical sector and health care delivery . Good governance in the pharmaceutical sector includes measures to ensure transparent processes of drug procurement, drug control, rational drug use and access to medicines.
Pregnant women in Barranquilla, Colombia, waiting for a medical consultation.
  • Addressing ethical issues in vector-borne diseases
    Zika has raised many specific ethical issues, in particular regarding pregnancy. At the same time, it has highlighted ethical issues that arise in vector-borne diseases more generally. Attention to Zika is thus an opportunity not only to address ethical concerns in relation to an ongoing epidemic outbreak and its consequences, but to broaden our field of enquiry to vector-borne diseases as such.
Old ladies in a yard, Kerala, India
  • Ageing
    Ageing raises many issues such as the society’s response and attitudes to ageing, the health systems approach to ageing, health care rationing, metrics for ageing and equity concerns.


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