Public health officials regularly collect and analyse data to map disease, spot patterns, identify causes and respond to outbreaks. Surveillance, when conducted ethically, is the foundation for programs to promote human well-being at the population level and can contribute to reducing inequalities.
However, it is not without risks for participants and sometimes poses ethical dilemmas. It can lead to harm if people’s privacy is violated, or they are stigmatized on the basis of the information they provide about themselves.
The WHO have produced Guidelines on Ethical Issues in Public Health Surveillance – the first international framework of its kind. It 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.