Bioethics Blogs

Ebola, an (Un)ethical Crisis

by Brandon Brown, MPH, PhD, Assistant Professor and Director of the Global Health Research, Education, and Translation (GHREAT) Initiative, University of California-Irvine Program in Public Health

So far, the current Ebola epidemic has resulted in more than 9,000 cases and 4,500 related deaths in affected West African countries, with additional cases now in the United States and Europe. As we learn more, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is updating its website with new information, and we find ourselves inundated with reports from every major news channel, on the internet, and in our favorite print publications. Ebola is an obvious priority in the US, as signaled by the recent appointment of an “Ebola czar” to guide us in our preparations and response to the epidemic.

Still, there are several outstanding ethical questions that have arisen as a result of the Ebola outbreak:

  1. Why did it take so long for the US to respond to the West African epidemic, and are we ethically obligated to provide assistance? What are our obligations strengthen the health infrastructure in West Africa and help ensure that it’s prepared for future threats?
  2. How do we ensure that fast-tracked trials meet minimum ethical standards and that resulting vaccines are safe and effective? How do we determine who should be prioritized to receive the resulting vaccines?
  3. What do we do about the other epidemics still ravaging the affected countries? Will it be one step forward in preventing Ebola, but one step back for the big three: HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria? Should Ebola be the economic priority at this time?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.