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Systemic Negligence: Why It Is Morally Important for Developing World Bioethics


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared


In the context of clinical and non-clinical biomedical practices, negligence is usually understood as a lapse of a specific professional duty by a healthcare worker or by a medical facility. This paper tries to delineate systemic negligence as another kind of negligence in the context of health systems, particularly in developing countries, that needs to be recognized and addressed. Systemic negligence is not just a mere collection of stray incidences of medical errors and system failures in a health system, but is proposed in this paper as a more pervasive kind of neglect. Several non-medical factors, such as lack of social and political will, also contribute to it and hence is more difficult to address in a health system. This paper argues that recognizing systemic negligence and including it research agenda have special moral importance for researchers in developing world bioethics, public health ethics and for health activists in the developing world. For, it can be a potent health system barrier, and can seriously impair efforts to ensure patient safety, particularly in the weaker health systems. As it erodes accountability in a health system, addressing it is also important for the twin goals of ensuring patient safety and improving health system performance. Above all, it needs to be addressed because the tolerance of its persistence in a health system seems to undervalue health as a social good.