Health ethics has been an integral part of the activities of many units and departments at WHO for many years and is addressed not only within the Department of Ethics, Equity, Trade and Human Rights (IER/ETH) and throughout the organization. ETH works collaboratively with staff from all departments and the regional offices to identify, design, and carry out projects addressing the ethics of health care, public health, and biomedical science. This encompasses projects that originate in the department and those on which it provides advice and assistance to activities located in other clusters and in regional offices.
In October 2002, the World Health Organization launched its Ethics and Health Initiative to provide a focal point for the examination of the ethical issues raised by activities throughout the organization, including the regional and country offices, and to develop activities regarding a wide range of global bioethics topics, from organ and tissue transplantation to developments in genomics, and from research with human beings to fair access to health services.
Work in ethics and health is now carried out by the Department of Ethics, Equity, Trade and Human Rights in the Innovation, Information, Research and Evidence cluster at headquarters (IER/ETH). This department is involved in a wide range of ethics activities, both on its own initiative and in response to the needs of other parts of WHO, at HQ as well as in WHO's country and regional offices. The specific projects, many of which link different departments and involve experts from outside the organization, evolve in response to changes in the field.
Through the U.N. Inter-Agency Committee on Bioethics, the unit also has liaison relations with the ethics offices of other United Nations agencies as well as governmental and nongovernmental organizations dealing with bioethics issues.