APRU Webinar on Bioethics and Covid-19 draws wide participation
May 22, 2020

With wide participation from students, academics and experts from Latin America to South East Asia, this webinar was the first virtual experience that opened access to best practice sharing, information, and training on key issues of global health in the time of the Coronavirus. Through these virtual experiences, APRU is making these key convenings for knowledge sharing accessible among everyone, eliminating the many financial and commitment barriers across the globe.

Held in the morning of May 20 in Asia and Australasia, the webinar facilitated a meaningful discussion among experts from the APRU Bioethics Working Group formed under the auspices of the Global Health Program. Their presentations addressed key ethical challenges in relation to Covid-19, including resource allocation, stigma and discrimination, reproductive rights, mass surveillance, and aging.

“One of the most exciting things about the APRU Global Health Working Group is that we have a ready-made mechanism for sharing research from a complex and diverse region,” said Professor Angus Dawson, The University of Sydney, who presented on resource allocation during public health crises.

“Our webinar informed leadership, moving forward by using the diverse value of the network with its a multi-disciplinary and cross-regional approach,” he added.

Dawson’s presentation explained that sound resource allocation during public health crises requires the identification of the right tipping point for switching from the normal clinical care modus to the emergency care modus.

Dawson stressed that once the tipping point has been reached, medical frontline personnel must have the appropriate systems ready at hand to determine who is recovering, who is dying, and who does not accept care in order to allocate scarce resources, such as PPEs, ventilators, ICU beds, and vaccines.

“Resource allocation needs clear, rational approaches to help clinicians to make decisions and, in turn, protect them from mental stress,” Dawson said.

“At the same time, the duty of care to patients must be maintained throughout the crisis,” he added.

Professor Leo De Castro, University of the Philippines, Diliman, spoke on stigma and discrimination in the Philippines during the Covid-19 crisis, describing how the university’s Palma Hall has been turned into a quarantine facility for suspected and probable cases of Covid-19.

Castro explained how parents used to accompany their children to Palma Hall feeling very proud that they made it to the best university in the country, whereas people visiting Palma Hall today are likely to experience stigma and discrimination.

“We understand stigma and discrimination to be driven by ignorance, vulnerability, lack of power, and fear, but we have also seen swift response to discrimination in the Philippines, such as residents offering unoccupied apartments for use of frontline workers,” Castro said.

Dr María de Jesús Medina-Arellano, National Autonomous University of Mexico, who spoke on restricting reproductive rights and domestic violence during a pandemic.  She pointed out that women are uniquely affected by Covid-19 with increased duties at work and home. “It’s unfortunate and unsurprising that women are left out of the decision making-process despite their vulnerability to the virus and also that they make up the majority of the healthcare workforce worldwide.” She called for more diverse leadership and representation in research to serve the unique needs of women and diverse populations.

Dr Calvin Wai-Loon Ho, The University of Hong Kong, who spoke on mass surveillance during public health crises, called for global solidarity during the time of the Coronavirus. The pandemic response requires mass surveillance and infection control which has a drawback and cost to society. Surveillance has lack of international regulations, less institutional oversight, and the same ethical principles are not always considered or enforced. We rely on supportive mechanisms such as the WHO, which monitor the core ethical principles for the common good, equity, respect for persons, and good governance. Dr Ho called on regulators and key stakeholders to think beyond privacy, to strengthen the public health system and build trust, and effective communication and engagement.

Professor Jonathan R. Guillemot, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, presented on Covid-19 and the ethics of ageing, noting that the epidemic occurs in the demographically oldest world ever and thus raises questions about our approach to ageing and our focus on mortality figures, as opposed to quality of end of life and quality of death.

Due to the success and rich discussion panelists are following up with an academic paper to inform the discourse of inequities, vulnerabilities and ethics in the time of COVID-19.

The article is published on Journal of Global Health Science at here.

Read a news article posted at USC Institute on Inequalities in Global Health.