Abstract Significant inequalities in health between and within countries have been measured over the past decades. Although these inequalities, as well as attempts to improve sub-standard health, raise profound issues of social justice and the right to health, those working in the field of bioethics have historically tended to devote greater attention to ethical issues raised by new, cutting-edge biotechnologies such as life-support cessation, genomics, stem cell research or face transplantation. This suggests that bioethics research and scholarship may revolve around issues that, while fascinating and important, currently affect only a small minority of the world's population. In this article, we examine the accusation that bioethics is largely dominated by Anglophone and industrialized world interests, and explore what kinds of positive contributions a 'bioethics from below' (as Paul Farmer calls it) can make to the field of bioethics in general. As our guide in this exploration, we make use of some experiences and lessons learned in our collaborative bioethics project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Building Bioethics Capacity and Justice in Health. We conclude that while there is some evidence of increased attention to bioethical challenges in developing countries, this development should be further cultivated, because it could help expand the horizons of the field and enhance its social relevance wherever it is practiced.