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Based upon the lead author's deep personal and professional experience, this case narrative illustrates the importance of engagement between public health practitioners and members of affected populations and their advocates. The case underscores the need to build strong coalitions to address serious public health and social issues. It also illustrates how decisions about control groups in research raise ethical issues. In addition, the case illustrates the reality that public health and social services are sometimes inadequate in the face of dire circumstances. Justice in public health has both a distributive aspect (how to allocate limited resources and distribute potential benefits as fairly as possible) and a procedural dimension (ensuring public participation, especially of those most affected). Frameworks for public health ethics, which post-date the events detailed in the autobiographical case narrative, highlight both distributive justice and procedural justice.