Public health surveillance is the foundation for policies and interventions to promote health and wellbeing at the population level. It enables addressing and reducing inequalities in the population, by making them first visible.
At the same time, the officials, researchers and other professionals involved in planning and conducting the surveillance sometimes encounter ethical dilemmas. Issues about privacy, autonomy, equity, and the common good need to be considered and balanced.
The WHO Guidelines on Ethical Issues in Public Health Surveillance (2017) address these ethical challenges with 17 guidelines. These can assist everyone involved in public health surveillance, including officials in government agencies, health workers, NGOs and the private sector.
Article 5.3 and preventing tobacco industry interference
The Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC requires Parties to act to protect their public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law. One of the common tactics used by the tobacco industry to interfere with tobacco control efforts is undermining and discrediting scientific evidence. Robust monitoring, research and information exchange among the Parties build the base for counteracting this interference both at national and global level.
The guidelines for the implementation of the Article 5.3 also explicitly state that “Payments, gifts and services, monetary or in-kind, and research funding offered by the tobacco industry to government institutions, officials or employees can create conflicts of interest”.
Further, the Article 20.4 requires, inter alia, Parties to promote and facilitate exchanges of information about tobacco industry practices. Each Party should also endeavour to cooperate with competent international organizations to establish progressively and maintain a global system to regularly collect and disseminate information on activities of the tobacco industry which have an impact on the Convention or national tobacco control activities.