Global health ethics

Bioethics - Global Health Ethics Seminar


Thursday 5 May 2016, 2.00PM - The 4th Global Health Ethics seminar series will be broadcast from the prestigious FIOCRUZ, Rio de Janeiro and focus on ‘Bioethics,’ in a ‘webinar’ format. Join the webinar to hear about the work of colleagues in the area of bioethics from three different perspectives – the global level, the regional level and the national level.

11th Global Summit of National Ethics Committees

16-18 March 2016, Berlin, Germany -- More than 100 countries have been nominated to participate in the 11th Global Summit of National Ethics Committees. The Summit theme, Global Health, Global Ethics, Global Justice, sets 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 proceedings of the Global Summit in Berlin is being livestreamed on the internet.

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