Toward an ethics of global health (de)funding: Thoughts from a maternity hospital project in Kabul, Afghanistan

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Funding and defunding decisions in global health are often not subject to ethical scrutiny although they carry the potential for iatrogenic violence. The funding and defunding of a maternal health project in Kabul, Afghanistan during the 2000s reveals the post 9/11 science-politics dynamics that resulted in the emergence of maternal mortality in Afghanistan as a humanitarian object. Despite concerns raised by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services subcontractors renovated one of four public maternity hospitals in Kabul, doubling the number of births per year and increasing the rate of caesarean sections. Project defunding in 2011 was due to a confluence of primarily political factors. Project actors–Afghan and internationals–expressed ethical concerns about the abrupt defunding and the particular risks to women undergoing emergency caesarean sections at the hospital. The analysis presented here has wider relevance for the global surgery movement and concerns about fluctuations in donor funding in global health. There is a need for an ethics of global health funding and defunding decisions that encompasses policies, relationships, stronger local public health systems and civic participation. Global health (de)funding must be made more of an object of ethical deliberation and negotiation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1136-1151
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Public Health
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2022


  • Afghanistan
  • ethics
  • funding
  • global health
  • surgery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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