Disparities in health outcomes of members of different ancestral or ethnic groups can be observed in both developed and developing countries and continue to be a global concern. Genomic medicine can help toward closing this gap by expanding the knowledge on novel alleles related to disease risk and drug response, their frequencies, and their relation with disease and drug-response phenotypes, in as many countries and ethnic groups as possible. Without such knowledge, genomic medicine cannot deliver upon its promise of contributing to health for all. However, the use of ancestry or ethnicity-related genetic information as a selection criterion for assigning varying levels of access to health care is condemnable. Translational genomic medicine will allow for individualized clinical decision making - doing away with the use of race, ethnicity or ancestry as a proxy. © 2009 BioMed Central Ltd.