Qatar Tribune
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Experts throw light on ethical issues in coronavirus pandemic

Ailyn Agonia


Critical ethical issues in the light of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic such as people’s privacy, protection of society’s most vulnerable over those most likely to recover and restrictions on congregational religious gatherings were the focus of discussion by a panel of experts from Qatar during a webinar hosted by Qatar Foundation’s global health initiative, the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), on Tuesday.

The webinar titled ‘Coronavirus: The Interplay of Medical and Islamic Ethics’ shed light on managing ethical issues and wide ranging ethical challenges for governments and health authorities in view of the coronavirus pandemic with an interesting focus on Islamic ethics. The discussion also covered myths circulating around COVID-19 and the most scientifically reliable preventative measures.

The discussions were also guided by the result of a public poll conducted by WISH for the session wherein the experts gave their insights.
During the discussions, Sheikh Dr Mohammed al Thani underlined the commitment of Qatar government in supporting public and private sector with the utmost intention of protecting the people and curbing the spread of the disease in the country.

He said all the governments are on high alert and measures are taken in all parts of the world, including in the GCC, in tackling COVID-19, which he said is challenging the world.

Commenting on whether it is ethical to close international borders, to which more than 91 percent of respondents to a public poll agree, the official said it is a necessary action to take by governments and countries to ensure the control of the spread of disease.
While on the poll on countries with scarce resources proritising society’s mot vulnerable over those most likely to recover during pandemics, of which about 80 percent of the respondents agree, he said the system should be capable to take care of everyone. However, he admitted it is a big challenge for any country.

He said the situation will guide countries and if they work hard they can save both.
“We are very proud in the Islamic world. We have scientists and doctors and healthcare workers who know their religion and their values. They have all the international knowledge and they are trying to properly keep the values of Islam,” Dr Mohammed said.

Pertaining to the temporary closure of schools across Qatar, he said there is no definite answer to how long this will be implemented but he stressed that the next weeks is critical that would test the readiness of very country.

Another panellist Dr Abu-Raddad provided further insights on the nature of the virus in terms of figures and the modes of transmission of the disease of which the public must be wary off.

He reiterated the importance of social distancing and reducing social circle as well as the need for proper hygiene, particularly hand washing.
He said, on an average, individuals have contact with 500 to a hundred people.

“We are advising this in order to break the transmission chain in the community. If everyone adheres to about 60 percent of reduction of social circle or at least 60 percent adhere to one metre distance (social distancing), the virus will eventually die out. This virus is very serious. It is not just the responsibility of the government but the responsibility of everyone,” said Dr Abu-Raddad.

He added, “This pandemic will go away sooner or later. But we can make it go away sooner than later if everyone put a lot of value on individual responsibility. To encourage everyone to follow instructions communicated to them on more social distancing and hand washing. Anyone with symptoms should isolate him/herself immediately at home and call the hotline.”
Regarding the poll question that moral obligation of protecting people’s privacy has no place in the context of pandemic, to which 53 percent of the respondent agree, Dr Abu-Raddad said while as a matter of principle, privacy should be guaranteed for everyone, very exceptional circumstances do not leave authorities any choice but to act.

He said, “There will be some violation of privacy but this comes only after very deliberate thinking. Nobody wants to go that part. This is a very unusual circumstance. People have to accommodate.”

Citing an example of such unusual circumstances, the expert said, “There are people against vaccine but they are endangering the society. We need a minimum fraction of the society to be vaccinated in order for the society to be protected.”
Another panellist, Dr Mutaz brought to the fore the importance of ethics in the time of epidemic or pandemic to set the rules and priorities and be directed to the right course of action.

He discussed the four approaches to discuss the ethical aspects of epidemics namely, ethics of epidemics which covered isolation and quarantine; public health ethics or the health policy that should be made to prevent the virus from spreading; ethics of emergency preparedness or the need for quick decision making; and normative and virtue ethics which relate to the individual character and how they should be have in emergency cases.
Dr Mutaz said, “It is ethically justifiable when it is effective in controlling the epidemic and when it is proportional to the severity of the epidemic. It is ethically justifiable when there is transparency between the government and public to let them know how the situation is and take the government instructions seriously.”

On an item in the poll referring to “restrictions on congregational religious gatherings (e.g Friday prayers) should be less strict than those applied to other collective gatherings such as sporting events and concerts” to which 65 percent of the respondents disagree, Dr Mutaz said, “We are not talking about canceling the obligations on Friday. We are moving from one action to an alternative. We are not talking about our religious obligations. The obligation will remain and every individual has to perform his or her obligation but we are talking about just closing the mosque to prevent the spread the virus.”

He also stressed that it is the moral obligation of the state to protect its people. He urged the public to be more responsible and get closer to Allah.
Dr Mutaz said individuals can do their religious obligations individually and the temporary closing of the mosques must not stop them.

While Dr Ghaly pointed out several key points including striking a good balance between honouring the public good and honouring the individual good. He also reminded people against stigmatising people who have been affected by the virus or seeing them as liable.
He said such actions can affect and undermine the dignity of those who were unfortunate to be infected by the virus.
The panellists also answered questions from the public which included effective ways to boost one’s immune system.


Source: Qatar Tribune



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