Integrating ethics, health policy and health systems in low-and middle-income countries: Case studies from Malaysia and Pakistan

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Bulletin of the World Health Organization








Scientific progress is a significant basis for change in public-health policy and practice, but the field also invests in value-laden concepts and responds daily to sociopolitical, cultural and evaluative concerns. The concepts that drive much of public-health practice are shaped by the collective and individual mores that define social systems. This paper seeks to describe the ethics processes in play when public-health mechanisms are established in low- and middle-income countries, by focusing on two cases where ethics played a crucial role in producing positive institutional change in public-health policy. First, we introduce an overview of the relationship between ethics and public health; second, we provide a conceptual framework for the ethical analysis of health system events, noting how this approach might enhance the power of existing frameworks; and third, we demonstrate the interplay of these frameworks through the analysis of a programme to enhance road safety in Malaysia and an initiative to establish a national ethics committee in Pakistan. We conclude that, while ethics are gradually being integrated into publichealth policy decisions in many developing health systems, ethical analysis is often implicit and undervalued. This paper highlights the need to analyse public-health decision-making from an ethical perspective.