Annals of African Medicine
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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 20  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 157-163

Public health ethics and the COVID-19 pandemic

Department of Community Medicine, Faculty of Clinical Sciences, College of Medical Sciences, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Alhaji A Aliyu
Department of Community Medicine, Faculty of Clinical Sciences, College of Medical Sciences, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/aam.aam_80_20

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Health is a human right anchored in values as a basic necessity of life. It promotes the well-being of persons, communities, economic prosperity, and national development. The coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic caught the world unaware and unprepared. It presented a huge challenge to the health and economic systems of every country. Across the spectrum of human endeavor and liberty, several ethical questions have been raised with regard to its management, particularly the public health control measures. Decisions for pandemic control measures are made under difficult circumstances driven by urgency and panic, with uncertainties and complexities for public goods over individual rights. Global solidarity in controlling the pandemic is being tested. National governments have the responsibility to protect public health on the grounds of common good. Political considerations should not be the basis for decision-making against the best available epidemiological data from pandemic disease dynamics. Hence, the need to adhere to the values of honesty, trust, human dignity, solidarity, reciprocity, accountability, transparency, and justice are major considerations. A literature search was conducted for the publications from academic databases and websites of health-relevant organizations. I discuss the ethical questions and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of public health control measures using the standard ethical principles of respect for autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and social (distributive) justice. It is observed that, at the country level, the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines are used to control the pandemic. As WHO through the COVAX strategy distributes the vaccines to less developed countries, a lot still needs to be done to address the complex bottlenecks of allocation and distribution. There is a need to ensure acceptable and transparent system that promotes cooperation, equitable access, and fair distribution of vaccines on a global scale.

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