(a) Global issues: A pandemic threat puts all nations at risk and global cooperation is essential for managing the threat. One way that governments try to control the spread of disease is by restricting to travel and trade. These restrictions can have major effects on both individuals and on countries (including serious economic consequences that can be long lasting). The World Health Organization must carefully weigh ethical principles (such as necessity, effectiveness, proportionality) when making public health recommendations. Individual countries also have a responsibility to work together to prevent a worsening crisis by sharing important information with the WHO and other nations, and by sharing the expertise and resources needed to respond to public health emergencies.
(b) Restrictions to individual freedoms: In order to prevent the spread of influenza, the government may use the following restrictive measures:
– SOCIAL DISTANCING: This is when schools are closed and public gatherings are cancelled to reduce contact between people.
– QUARANTINE: Restricting the movement/activities of a person who is not know to have the disease, but has been exposed to someone who has, during the time when it could have been passed on.
– ISOLATION: Separating people who have the disease, for the time during which they may be infectious.
All of the above restrictions limit a person’s freedom and if the government decides to do so, the public health principles described above must be considered.
(c) Priority setting in relation to scare resources: During a pandemic the health care system is likely to be overwhelmed. There may not be enough medicine, medical equipment, or health care workers to treat everyone (both people with influenza and other illnesses). Governments and health care professionals will have to make difficult decisions such as who should get medicines first (the sickest? the most likely to get better with treatment? the youngest?), who should be treated in the hospital, and who should get vaccinated first as vaccines become available. Ethical principles as described above can help to guide decision makers when they set priorities.
(d) Duty to provide care: A flu pandemic will put large demands on health care workers. They will be faced with a serious disease from which they may not be able to completely protect themselves and which may have no cure. They have a duty to care for the sick who need their help, but they also have a duty to protect their own health and the health of their family and friends. If the government and society fulfill their reciprocal duty to help health care professionals by providing protective equipment and giving them appropriate training, these issues may be less significant.