The nature and complexity of public health emergencies, like the current COVID-19 outbreak, raise a number of distinctive and profound ethical challenges. Yet, despite the existence of a number of authoritative ethics guidance documents and important ethical lessons learned as a result of our collective experience responding to past public health emergencies, no formal mechanisms exist globally to coordinate and support ethical decision-making in this context. As a result, global public health emergency preparedness and response often proceeds with inadequate real-time, operational support to aid in the identification, analysis, prevention, and mitigation of ethical challenges—both novel and familiar—that arise in these contexts. In addition, severe deficiencies exist in the capacities of many countries, and particularly low- and middle-income countries, to adequately develop and implement these supports. There is therefore a significant unmet need to leverage existing international expertise and resources to establish a global and inclusive network capable of providing real-time, contextual support and advice to researchers, practitioners, and governments in relation to the ethical issues that can be expected to arise during global public health emergencies, and to build capacity globally such that these supports can be provided in a context-sensitive, sustainable manner.
On January 26, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a pilot network to fill this gap: the Public Health Emergency Ethics Preparedness and Respone (PHEEPR) Network. We propose to host a 2-day workshop at the Brocher Foundation where key experts from around the world are invited to help identify the key aims, functions, and membership of this pilot Network, and advance the ways in which we inegrate ethics into public health emergency preparedness and response.