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.


Multimedia area on Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief On 12 January 2010
  • 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.
  • Research ethics
    Research ethics govern the standards of conduct for scientific researchers. It is important to adhere to ethical principles in order to protect the dignity, rights and welfare of research participants.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Human genome editing
    WHO is establishing a global multi-disciplinary expert panel to examine the scientific, ethical, social and legal challenges associated with human genome editing (both somatic and germ cell).

Organ transplant, surgery
  • Human organ and tissue transplantation
    Transplantation has been a topic for ethical scrutiny and health care policy-making for more than thirty years.
  • HIV/AIDS
    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.
  • Big data and artificial intelligence
    Big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) promise great benefit to the practice of medicine and to the health of populations. At the same time, escalating use of Big Data and AI poses many ethical challenges regarding governance, quality, safety, standards, privacy and data ownership and control.








Zika virus prevention, Colombia
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.