Standard Article

Global Health Ethics

  1. Udo Schuklenk,
  2. Cheryl Cline

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee558

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Schuklenk, U. and Cline, C. 2013. Global Health Ethics. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


Since the middle of the twentieth century, people have experienced remarkable gains in health. Life expectancy has almost doubled (World Health Organization 2003: 3) and child mortality rates have decreased by 60 percent (Moser et al. 2005: 203). Despite these positive trends, health disparities between those who are financially well off and those who are not continue to widen. In developing world countries these disparities are particularly pronounced. For example, an estimated nine million children under the age of 5 die globally each year, 50 percent of which are easily preventable (World Health Organization 2009). Many of these deaths can be attributed to the health resource gap between the developed and the developing world. At the same time, global wealth has increased to such an extent that it is now feasible to significantly reduce health-related illness, suffering, and premature death. Many of the world's health problems that result in the large-scale avoidable loss of quality-adjusted life-years are the foreseeable consequence of poverty caused by the world economic order. High drug prices protected by the international patent regime put medicines out of the reach of many of the world's citizens, and a paucity of health research funding, for diseases that primarily affect citizens living in poorer countries, results in unnecessary illness and premature death. These are two of the many factors that contribute to poor living conditions for the majority of the world's citizens that are not just tragic but unjust. A growing body of literature addresses our moral obligations to improve health globally in light of our material capacity to do so. This essay draws on this emerging ethics literature to describe two contending accounts of global health obligations. We then highlight four prominent ethical issues in global health ethics that include (1) sharing the benefits of research carried out through developing country collaborations, (2) the growing trend of patients traveling across national borders in pursuit of healthcare, (3) the migration of healthcare workers to wealthier from poorer communities, and (4) international infectious disease control.


  • globalization;
  • medicine;
  • practical (applied) ethics;
  • bioethics;
  • intellectual property;
  • research