Ethics in Epidemiology

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Most professions, like business and medicine have their own code of conduct to bring benefits to the society in which the profession is practiced. The code of conduct is actually ethical codes based on judgment of right and wrong. Generally most code of conduct is enforced by laws, sometimes by morality. Professionals in the field of Public Health & Epidemiology also have their own code of conduct. The code of conduct includes fundamental obligations; principles or rules which define the professional’s actions and ethical theories which persuade the professional to act in accordance with binding ethics.

Learning is never ending, and in epidemiology, this on going learning would result in improving the effectiveness of practice. Although epidemiologists may be employed differently, like in government practice, university research and teaching or in private practice, they all have a basic requirement to strive for the betterment of each individual and the society as a whole. In research activities, they are required to strive to reduce risks and avoid harm to the participants and society, by providing all research benefits to them.

Professional epidemiological organizations play a considerable role in improving the competencies of its professionals, through continuing education (ACE, 2000). Epidemiologists are primarily accountable to deliver to the needs of the people, while gathering and reacting to multiple informative and feedback sources. The Epidemiologists need to continuously learn and change accordingly, and strive to improve the quality of data delivered. One of the core objectives of epidemiology is the maintenance and promotion of public health through proper understanding of the disease (Coughlin, 1997).

Epidemiologists need to strive for creativity and scientific excellence while being accountable. The practicing professionals should work towards developing newer knowledge by appropriately adopting or abandoning existing judgments and understanding. All professional decisions must be supported by evidence, while knowledge, opinions and recommendations must be demonstrated and appropriately justified. The cultural background has an important influence on health related beliefs and behavior.

As cultures are never homogenous, people’s beliefs and behavior should not be generalized. These cultures are further subdivided through professional sub-cultures like medical, nursing, legal etc.. Students corresponding to such professions, particularly medicine and nursing are subject to enculturation as they acquire the culture of the chosen profession (Helman, 2000). For epidemiologists, this sub-culture incorporates the existing social divisions and prejudices, which can interfere with healthcare and doctor-patient communication.

Research into behavioral and social sciences incorporates a broad aspect of health relevant areas. Such research plays a crucial role in highlighting the important health issues in our society. The professionals must facilitate diversity in epidemiology practice without any attachment to specific culture or gender. Epidemiology data associating cultures and customs with diseases need be handled such that a sense of discrimination is not generated, while at the same time awareness is raised in the target population.

By inculcating appropriate practice guidelines and ethical norms, professional epidemiological organizations seek to assist their professionals whenever they are confronted by ethical dilemmas. Epidemiologist practitioners, researchers and scholars are confronted by situations each day which require them to take responsible decisions. Such situations include protecting health information of individuals collected during research or investigations and disbanding of identifiers. The tracking and reporting structure of disease origin like in sexually transmitted diseases must be according to established guidelines.

Epidemiologists are required to function in various settings and in all environments. Epidemiologists should have no reservations to working with economically, socially or medically affected populations. They should be very flexible and willing to work on any health aspect and people as and when required. They are expected to train and mentor their juniors in the field, and educate them on ethics, obligations and core values. The mentoring of juniors should include even when out of classrooms or regular learning environments.

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