Responding effectively to an outbreak of disease often requires routine processes to be set aside in favour of unconventional approaches. Consequently, an emergency response situation usually generates ethical dilemmas. The emergence of the Ebola virus in the densely populated cities of Lagos and Port Harcourt in Nigeria brought bleak warnings of a rapidly expanding epidemic. However, these fears never materialised largely due to the swift reaction of emergency response and incident management organisations, and the WHO has now declared Nigeria free of Ebola. However, numerous ethical issues arose in relation to the response to the outbreak. This paper discusses some of these ethical challenges and the vital lessons learned. Ethical challenges relating to confidentiality, the dignity of persons, non-maleficence, stigma and the ethical obligations of health workers are examined. Interventions implemented to ensure that confidentiality and the dignity of persons improved and stigma was reduced, included community meetings, knowledge communication and the training of media personnel in the ethical reporting of Ebola issues. In addition, training in infection prevention and control helped to allay the fears of health workers. A potential disaster was also averted when the use of an experimental medicine was reconsidered. Other countries currently battling the epidemic can learn a lot from the Nigerian experience.
- Public Health Ethics
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