October 6, 2022

COVID-19 MITIGATION: Where Ethics and Human Rights are Tested

Prof Halimu shauri. Image : (Courtesy)

Episode 34

(Dean; School of Humanities and Social Sciences; Pwani University)

The history of pandemics has been one of ups and downs with regard to the respect for professional ethics and human rights protection.
From the Bubonic plague, HIV/AIDS to Ebola, ethics and human rights have been violated. The rationale has been human life is of high value than ethics and protection of human rights.
While the above argument seems to be sensible and rational with regard to preservation of human life first, then thinking of ethics and human rights.
The sensibility and rationale are that ethics and human rights will only be achieved if there is existence of human beings; thus, no humans on earth, no ethics, no rights or fundamental freedoms!
I want to note that things may not be very different in the present COVID-19 epidemic with regard to upholding ethics, fundamental freedoms and human rights.
While we are aware that people have a right to life or to live, this right has to some extent led to the violation of other rights as governments struggle to keep us alive.

As you may recall, while public health concerns can warrant enforcement of certain measures that may be unethical or bordering on violation of human rights, but in state of epidemics there seem to be selective enforcement.
Selective enforcement based on what the team leading the fight consider logical. Focus is shifted from observing ethics and human rights to ensure all is done, right or wrong, but to conquer the pandemic.
The implementation of COVID-19 mitigation guidelines in Kenya for example was conservative in preserving the ethical considerations of privacy and confidentiality. This decision though costed us more than Ksh1.5 billion in contact tracing.
The country relies on the memory of the COVID-19 positive patients to reveal all persons they came into contact with by involving the national intelligence agency to do the contact mapping and tracing.
However, the Ksh1.5 billion could have been saved if this methodology could have been adapted to low income context by reversing it as suggested in my sister article of Reverse Social Network Analysis (RSNA), where COVID-19 infected persons were to be announced and those who came into contact with them to be able to seek care or self-quarantine.
This way we would have taken care of financial costs in tracing and social costs in taming stigma and discrimination.
In fact, such suspension of Social Network Analysis (SNA) that involves snowballing of contact persons to Reverse Social Network Analysis (RSNA) has basis in the public health Act and even under executive order by the president.
All these two options were not used and we kept the privacy and confidentiality intact at the cost of Ksh1.5 billion.

However, Kenyans still got to know some of the infected persons and their families despite the government protectionist policy.
This implies that there was some violation of the same ethical principles and ethical considerations of privacy and confidentiality.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe in a recent daily brief on Corona virus. Image: (Courtesy)

Worse has been the partial withdrawal of the right to work. The announcement was to allow working from home.
This order was oblivious of the challenging nature of work in Kenya, which is largely hand-to-mouth.
Definitely this elicited a lot of reactions from Kenyans, with voices of better to die with corona than lack of food dominating the space for the violation of right to work and therefore, food.
Indeed, this order was violating the right to eat as enshrined in the Constitution 2010. Where your work is a daily hustle, how do you make ends meet, if not approach in such an order!
However, mitigation measures were quickly implemented to cushion poor families through the COVID-19 relief program.
This program has had its share of challenges in identification of real needy cases but glaring is the violation of the choice of what to eat.
Some voices in Mombasa County castigated Governor Hassan Ali Joho for giving them maize flour and pigeon peas. But the bottom line is the right to work and eat was severely challenged and this has had severe negative impact on families to-date.
More rights violations were in the offing as the pandemic was taking shape. The imposition of mandatory quarantine, especially of those who had arrived from abroad is a case in point.
Interestingly, it was done at their own cost, wah! Worse is the mandatory quarantine of those who violate the curfew or lockdown despite the obvious scenario that they may not have been infected by the virus.

This amounted to “Coronaization” of the law. What we know is that those who violate a law, such as the curfew or cessation of movement, are to be taken to court and if found guilty to pay fine or be sent to prison.
Now, sending these people for forced quarantine and to meet their own cost of quarantine is too much violation I suppose!
The government becomes the complainant, prosecuted and the judge. Wah! The Chinese, the first to be “coronized”, have a saying:

“…May we live to see interesting times …”
The curfew and cessation of movement already violates fundamental human rights principles of freedom of movement to a people whose other freedoms such as that of association have already been taken away by keeping social distance, staying and working at home.
Indeed, COVID-19 has challenged us not only as a nation, but as a people globally. 
I must say, quite a number of us have been seeing only the negative impact of corona in the economic, with a few lamenting on social and political rights, like freedom of assembly.
In fact, political rights have almost all been frozen or taken away. Can we claim that we are adequately represented in Kenya now for the last 2 or so months?
With over 300 Members of Parliament, senators and thousands MCAs, there is near zero political representation now, with these guys smiling all the way to the bank for making laws from their homes.

Kenyan MP’s have gone on a self isolation to avoid the spread of the corona virus. Image: (Courtesy)

Finally, allow me to say that despite all these violations we need to continue to be resilient a little bit more to see how the virus will behave going forward.
While hope is returning albeit slowly and carefully, let’s remain steadfast and consistent in following the COVID-19 mitigation guidelines.
I know there’s a tendency to loose focus when people approach the end of things, but not this time please.
We have sacrificed a lot in violations of ethical, human rights and fundamental freedoms already, no regressing.
Thus, let’s continue behaving in our new normal to avoid any recurrence or surprises as the virus is still around us, virulent and can mutate.

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