Ethical Dilemmas in Public Health

Ethical Dilemmas in Public Health

In the contemporary world, ethical dilemmas are inevitable given the incongruence of individual and societal preferences. In such cases, decision-making is difficult given that both alternatives appear to be right. The situation is even more complicated in public health where the focus is on the community. In essence, this discussion focuses on providing an example of an ethical dilemma in public health and establishing public health’s primary interest in such cases. By so doing, a new understanding of this matter is inevitable.

Of utmost significance among the many instances of ethical dilemmas in public health is the issue of maintenance of patient privacy when dealing with HIV/AIDS persons. Without a doubt, the right to privacy is an essential entitlement for every human being, and therefore preservation of this right translates to a moral action. However, this is not the case in disease surveillance of HIV/AIDS where public health professionals employ name-based reporting of HIV/AIDS cases. Such a practice denies HIV/AIDS individuals their privacy rights while at the same time prevents the loss of track of cases, which is for the common good of the society (Lee, Heilig, & White, 2012). Benefits of this kind pose ethical dilemma for public health personnel since they are torn between preservation of individual’s right to privacy and community’s need for protection from HIV/AIDS unnecessary transmission.

In this case, the public health’s primary interest is to the well-being of the community as opposed to an individual’s privacy needs. That is for sure because the common good of name-based reporting of HIV/AIDS translates to a healthy community, which is much significant than just preserving the privacy of these persons. Its significance stems from the fact that this kind of reporting will ensure the protection of healthy persons from contracting HIV/AIDS, which is consistent to public health’s aspiration for a healthy community (Holland, 2015).

Concisely, this paper focused on providing an example of a typical ethical dilemma in public health as a means of enhancing further understanding of this issue. An implication, for public health practice, drawn from the discussion is the need for an ethical framework that will guide the decision-making in such circumstances. In the absence of such a framework, decision-making will continue to remain problematic for the unforeseeable future.


Holland, S. (2015). Public health ethics.Cambridge; Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Lee, L. M., Heilig, C. M., & White, A. (2012).Ethical justification for conducting public health surveillance without patient consent. American journal of public health102(1), 38-44.