Henk ten Have, author of Global Bioethics: An Introduction tackles a tough question regarding what to do about infectious diseases.
In the 1967, the U.S. Surgeon General declared that it is time to close the book on infectious diseases. Children can be vaccinated against deadly infections. We need no longer be afraid of bacteria and viruses now that effective medication such as antibiotics is available. Let us worry about chronic illnesses, organ transplantations, and intensive care. These medical interventions raise many ethical questions about benefit and harm. Are they really for the good of patients, or do we better decide not to intervene?
Today, infectious diseases are on top of the public agenda. Following the Ebola scare of last year, we now face a growing Zika panic. This tropical virus, transmitted by mosquitos, is rapidly spreading through the
For most people the disease is like a simple flu. However, the virus is obscure. There is not much knowledge. Vaccines, treatment and diagnostic tests fo not exist. But it is associated with usually rare conditions that now have become more frequent, such as shrunken brains of newborns. It is evident that the disease will have wide impact. People are advised not to travel to a growing number of countries. It seems that there is no way to stop the disease, not even with the military. The main question is what can we do and should we do?
This is not a technical question but an ethical one. We are confronted with a similar story over the past two years in connection to the Ebola epidemic in
Now that ‘tropical’ diseases have become global diseases, it is also clear that stronger global coordination is needed. No country alone can influence this pandemic. Even conglomerates of expertise such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the
But even if effective global governance will be applied this time, there is no magic solution. What should concern us is not only the disease itself but the people who are ill. Health is negatively related to poverty and ecological degradation. Social, economic, and political conditions make people vulnerable. Tom Frieden, Director of CDC, recently called it a shame that tuberculosis is the number 1 killer in the world. It kills 1,5 million people each year while it is almost completely curable. Zika therefore is not a reason for panic. It is a serious motive to rethink how global health can be improved. That will require new and broader approaches to health and health ethics, creating a new alliance between health, economic, environmental and social policies. Most of all, an ethical framework is needed that values common interests more than private or national ones. This is the main purpose of my new book Global Bioethics: An Introduction.
Going to the Carnival in
The panorama of bioethical problems is different today. Patients travel to Thailand for fast surgery; commercial surrogate mothers in India deliver babies to parents in rich countries; organs, body parts and tissues are trafficked from East to Western Europe; physicians and nurses migrating from…
Paperback – 2016-02-09