Bioethics Blogs

Web Roundup: Zika virus and the politics of public health responses by Jane Roberts

What a difference a month makes. At the start of 2016, its likely that Zika virus was on very few of our radars, yet as we reach the close of January, we find ourselves in the midst of an emerging epidemic, where facts about the virus and associated birth defects have combined with larger questions about the politics of public health responses in the wake of a crisis, both on an individual and governmental level. The emergence of yet another widespread epidemic so soon after Ebola leads again to questions how responses are formulated, and who gets priority access to medications and hospital beds in the face of a shortage of resources or available vaccines.

Some have suggested that the arrival of Zika virus is foreshadowing dystopian climate future, where the realm of science fiction is slowly becoming a reality as a result of “pushing the limits of our planets ecology”. This article in the Guardian proposes that the emergence of viruses such as Zika affect society on a much broader scale beyond the immediate health implications, most notably in the increased likelihood that residents of wealthy developed world will travel less frequently to places just starting to emerge from poverty for fear of contagion, leaving the poor and vulnerable bear the brunt.

An interesting article in The Lancet looks at the history of moral panic and pandemics, highlighting the importance of choice of language in shaping how people respond. It brings up interesting ideas regarding ho pandemics or epidemics are actually not only how widespread a disease actually is, but also how it is perceived, something that seems especially relevant as we watch yet another virus emerge hot on the heels of the recent Ebola epidemic.

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.