Researchers in Nigeria and UC Irvine team up to examine ethical issues related to Ebola treatment in Western Africa in an article titled “The Ebola outbreak in Western Africa: ethical obligations for care.” The article was published ahead of print as a current controversy in the Journal of Medical Ethics (http://jme.bmj.com/content/early/2014/09/09/medethics-2014-102434.short?g=w_jme_ahead_tab)
The focus of the article is on the health care system’s ability to combat the recent epidemic of Ebola in Western Africa. This is a timely and urgent issue, and one of growing concern to the United States and globally. Medical ethicists including those called upon by the World Health Organization are focusing on availability of experimental drugs, but little is being discussed about on the ground care and human rights. By the time this article was written, in August, there were 1145 deaths from Ebola. In the news, we saw Ebola treatment facilities taken over by armed civilians who stole medicines to protect themselves, resulting in Ebola patients fleeing for their lives and further spreading the virus. This action has taken a toll on an already limited infrastructure.
The unspoken heroes of the Ebola epidemic are the health care workers who brave potential infection to save the lives of those infected. Many have become infected and died by the time this article was published. It is understandable that willingness of medical staff to provide care for patients with Ebola virus is limited, as the danger to their own life is great. Moral obligations of health care staff to provide care to Ebola patients should have allowances for non-compliance so as not to infringe on the health care workers right to life. Workers who care for Ebola patients must be provided with adequate protective equipment and an environment which promotes health as well as compensated if they become infected in the course of duty. Traditional public health ethics has paid little attention to the protection of the rights of healthcare workers, but the Ebola epidemic has brought this issue to the forefront. Its time those who are responsible for saving our lives have a voice.
Manuscript authors include Dr. Aminu Yakubu and Dr. Nasir Sani-Gwarzo from the Federal Ministry of Health in Nigeria, Dr. Morenike Folayan from the Institute of Public Health at Obafemi Awolowo University, Dr. Patrick Nguku from the Nigeria Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program, Dr. Kristin Peterson from the UC Irvine Department of Anthropology, and Dr. Brandon Brown from the GHREAT Initiative at the UC Irvine Program in Public Health.