Nov 17

WHO Guidelines on ethical issues in public health surveillance

[PAHO/WHO Equity, Health and Human Development – Lista Equidad]

WHO guidelines on ethical issues in public health surveillance

World Health Organization, 2017

ISBN: 978-92-4-151265-7

The WHO Guidelines on Ethical Issues in Public Health Surveillance is the first international framework of its kind, it fills an important gap. The goal of the guideline development project was to help policymakers and practitioners navigate the ethical issues presented by public health surveillance. This document outlines 17 ethical guidelines that can assist everyone involved in public health surveillance, including officials in government agencies, health workers, NGOs and the private sector. I gratefully acknowledge the many experts and WHO colleagues who have made important contributions to this publication.

WHO has rightly asserted that public health surveillance, conducted in a manner that anticipates ethical challenges and proactively seeks to reduce unnecessary risks, provides the architecture for social well-being. It is now up to the global community and countries to take up this challenge and implement the guidelines in their surveillance systems.


Defining public health surveillance

Some countries define surveillance narrowly, others quite broadly. These guidelines cover surveillance as broadly understood. In the simplest formulations, surveillance is defined as “continued watchfulness” or “the monitoring of events in humans, linked to action”. WHO generally defines surveillance as “the continuous, systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of health-related data needed for the planning, implementation, and evaluation of public health practice”. Health data are those pertaining to communicable and NCDs, injuries and conditions and their related risks and determinants. For infectious disease outbreaks (and events that suggest a “potential for international disease spread”), the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) define surveillance as “the systematic on-going collection, collation and analysis of data for public health purposes and the timely dissemination of public health information for assessment and public health response as necessary”. Understanding of public health surveillance differs considerably from country to country.

Although surveillance is usually described as systematic or continuous, not all countries, institutions or scholars single out the routine nature of public health surveillance but rather emphasize the purpose and function of data collection (see Table 1). Likewise, although disease and injury always figure centrally, some definitions include determinants of important public health events and environmental conditions that affect health. Vital registration of events like births and deaths, although often not specifically described as part of a “public health” surveillance system, is often considered to be surveillance…

To access the publication / Para acceder a la publicación (en inglés): click here.


* The author/source alone is responsible for the views expressed in this article/publication or information resource, and they do not necessarily represent the positions, decisions or policies of the Pan American Health Organization. El autor/fuente es el único responsable por las opiniones expresadas en este artículo/publicación o recurso de información y no necesariamente representan las posiciones, decisiones o políticas de la Organización Panamericana de la Salud.


Pan American Health Organization, Regional Office of the World Health Organization for the Americas – http://www.paho.org

Office of the Assistant Director. Area of Knowledge Management, Bioethics and Research (KBR)

For additional information and to learn how to send contributions, please follow this link http://equity.bvsalud.org/general-criteria/ or contact Eliane P. Santos – Advisor, Library and Information Networks – KBR/ PAHO – pereirae@paho.org

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