Upcoming Issues


All issues publish general papers in addition to Special Sections.
JUNE 2019

Special Section: Global Health Fieldwork Ethics: Values, Realities, and the Right to Health 

Global Health Fieldwork Ethics: Values, Realities, and the Right to Health

June 2019

Guest Editors: Rachel Hall-Clifford, David Addiss, Robert Cook-Deegan, and James Lavery


Ethical challenges abound in global health fieldwork, from various types of physical hardship and risk for researchers, program staff, and host community partners, to deeply challenging moral and cultural ambiguities and wholesale moral dilemmas. Global health “fieldwork” generally refers to the activities undertaken by researchers or program implementers in collaboration with host country partners. Ethical challenges in fieldwork usually trace back to vast asymmetries in health, wealth and power between guest and host countries and the complex relational dynamics these entail. These dynamics may be strained by limited resources and by tensions between the programmatic objectives of global health donors and the priorities of host communities’ limited resources and weak health systems. And they may be severely tested in contexts with high rates of human rights abuses.

To a large extent, the risks and ethical challenges of global health fieldwork remain hidden from our discourse and unacknowledged in the academic literature. They are far more likely to be discussed at the bar with colleagues at the end of a global health conference than during the conference itself. Fieldworkers may have little preparation and inadequate training for the ethical challenges they encounter. And often the skills required to navigate these challenges effectively are learned through traumatic personal experience, rather than through systematic institutional learning and effective pedagogy. Our silence on these challenges effectively relegates responsibility for dealing with them to fieldworkers, to the extent they are capable and inclined.

In this Special Section, we seek to examine ethical challenges in global health fieldwork and to explore their connections to global health ethics, research ethics, and human rights. The Special Section will address how the realities of fieldwork shape and expand our knowledge in global health, affect the performance and outcomes of global health programs, and challenge global health values, including the realization of the right to health. It will consider how fieldwork ethics can be more consistently integrated into global health training and discourse, and into research ethics review and oversight.

Potential topics

Specific topics for this special section may include global health fieldwork in contexts of conflict, human rights abuses, or environmental crises; gender-based violence; managing tensions between priorities of global programs and local communities; responsibility of international fieldworkers and organizations for unintended consequences of their programs and personal actions; ethical blind spots; the ethics of global health communications, images, and publication; recovering the human dimension in global health fieldwork; obligations beyond individual research participants in global health research, and the often hidden influence of these challenges on scientific data and their interpretation.

Authors are especially encouraged to reflect on their particular experiences and relate these to the broader dimensions of global health fieldwork ethics and human rights.

Student perspectives

We welcome perspective essays (up to 3500 words) from students reflecting on their experiences as students undertaking global health or medical fieldwork. These essays can address the potential topics suggested above, as well as more specific matters arising from the added complexities of undertaking fieldwork for course credits, or as volunteers, and with limited training or professional experience. Where appropriate, joint essays with faculty, staff, or fieldwork supervisors are also invited. Students may submit full academic papers (up to 7000 words) incorporating research results as well as reflections on ethical components of their fieldwork experience.

Guest editors

The special section will be edited by Rachel Hall-Clifford, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Public Health at Agnes Scott College; David Addiss, Director of the Focus Area for Compassion and Ethics at The Task Force for Global Health; Robert Cook-Deegan, Professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University; and James Lavery, Conrad N. Hilton Chair in Global Health Ethics and Professor in the Hubert Department of Global Health in the Rollins School of Public Health and Center for Ethics at Emory University.

Submission details

  • Papers must be submitted by 31 October 2018
  • Papers for this issue should have a word length between 4000 and 7000 words, including references.
  • Perspective essays of between 2000-3500 words including references are also welcome.
  • Author guidelines are available on the website: http://www.hhrjournal.org/submissions/author-guidelines/.

Questions about this special section can be directed to Guest Editor Rachel Hall-Clifford at rhallclifford@agnesscott.edu or Carmel Williams, Executive Editor, Health and Human Rights Journal at HHRsubmissions@hsph.harvard.edu


Photo by Angela Duger