Global Health Ethics in Research and Practice

“Ethical Issues in Global Health,” was first offered in fall 2016 and introduces some of the major ethical challenges in global health practice and research. In an interactive learning environment this course explores ethical principles in the distribution of health resources, the conduct of global public health research and the implementation of public health initiatives and practices across different nations, cultures and religions, as well as differences in the concepts of right and wrong. Utilizing multiple formats including case studies, class discussions, interactions with key international ethicists, and role play, the course shed lights on ethical dilemmas that impact biomedical and psychosocial Human Subjects research.

“There is a major gap in public health education and training at many schools because they don’t teach ethics—and if they do, it’s not in a practical way. Issues such as privacy, mandatory vaccination, and the ethics around new global diseases like Zika, are emerging and the ethical decisions on how to handle them aren’t black and white but instead often culturally determined.” -Mellissa Withers, Associate Professor

Students are exposed to a broad range of ethical principles and moral theories that will help students gain an understanding of 1) the definitions of global health ethics and bioethics, 2) the protocol and systems in place to ensure adherence to ethical principles; and 3) how different stakeholders and cultures may interpret ethics differently. 

Timely and often contentious topics currently in the news are discussed, such as end-of-life care, genetic testing, anti-vaxxers, human genome editing, privacy in research, medical conscientious objection, commercial surrogacy, and access to surgical care. Through the application of case studies on ethical challenges from real-world situations, students analyze and discuss the complexities of public health practice and research ethics in a global context. 

Given global health practice is typically conducted in team settings with members from various backgrounds and cultural contexts, this course provides students with an opportunity to work with peers across institutions and regions to develop and hone skills in research ethics and cultural competency (in addition to an expanded professional network).  

“This course not only presented interesting subject materials, but gave me the unique opportunity to interact with students from all over the world. The logistics of bringing everyone together from several different time zones made for a once-in-a-lifetime experience in which I was able to see how international students think and learn.” -Chantel Aftab, USC

The course is managed by the APRU Global Health Program and is offered for free to university partners. To inquire about registering, email Dr. Mellissa Withers at