Ebola Outbreak Poses Ethical Questions For Governments, Private Sector

On Tuesday, a special panel of the World Health Organization met to discuss the ethics of providing ebola patients with untested drugs and vaccines to treat the disease.

In a statement after the meeting the WHO said in “particular circumstances of this outbreak, and provided certain conditions are met, the panel reached consensus that it is ethical to offer unproven interventions with as yet unknown efficacy and adverse effects, as potential treatment or prevention.”

The decision, however, raises additional ethical questions. The panel asserted criteria needs to be established to prioritize the use of unregistered experimental therapies and vaccines; and for achieving fair distribution in communities and among countries, in the face of a growing number of possible new interventions, none of which is likely to meet demand in the short term.

Some of the other ethical challenges posed in the effort to contain and treat ebola, such as who should fund drug production and should normal testing protocols be bypassed to get the drugs into as expeditiously, are examined in a piece on Vox.

The question of fairness has been a subject of vibrant discussion since the outbreak of the disease.

Lawrence Gostin, director of Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, believes the response to the ebola outbreak is largely a matter of rich nations acting out of their self-interest in containing the spread of the disease.

He notes many advanced nations have failed to meet their obligation under 2005 WHO regulations to help build global capacities to respond to infectious diseases.

“We haven’t done it,” Gostin said Tuesday, as he participated with other Georgetown experts in a conference call reports The Christian Science Monitor.

Pamela Scully takes a similar stance in her column contending that the disease strikes mostly the poor, but is spread by wealthier citizens.

“Though the majority of victims are poor, the wealthier people who have contracted Ebola — those able to travel by plane or car during the long incubation period — may be the mechanism of Ebola’s march through so many West African countries,” she writes.

In addition, taking Liberia as an example, Scully says experts must consider the social environment in many of the impacted countries, including an inherent suspicion of the outside doctors.

“Stopping the spread of the disease vitally depends on people complying with public health policies that stress isolation of the sick and abandonment of conventional methods of burial in favour of cremation. These demands collide with Liberian society’s most basic values. To ask Liberians to comply, authorities much have the highest degree of trust. Yet this is what is lacking,” Scully asserts.


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