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Due to the scope of the recent Ebola Virus Disease epidemic and the pace at which new cases are reported, a great deal of attention has been shifted to ethical questions. Who should be treated, by whom, and in what conditions are questions on the minds of individuals, governments, and healthcare professionals alike. According to the National Health Ethics Committee in Nigeria, if healthcare workers are not provided with the training and protection necessary for safe treatment, they have only a moral, but not a professional, obligation to assist the afflicted.
Current reports of the Ebola Virus Disease Epidemic indicate that approximately 4,500 deaths have resulted from infection. In many of the affected areas, such as West Africa, the healthcare infrastructure remains too weak to provide effective treatment. Ideal treatment of Ebola includes a single room, private bathroom, sealed door, and that healthcare personnel don full protective equipment. To date, few workers in these areas have these resources at their disposal.
This epidemic has brought to light serious concerns regarding the effect of ethical considerations on the treatment, and hopeful containment, of life threatening conditions such as the Ebola Virus. Healthcare workers typically see it as a moral responsibility to provide care for patients, but are now concerned about the potential risks. Governments and healthcare infrastructure may not be able to provide the appropriate facilities, equipment, and treatments to support the healthcare workers. If healthcare workers opt to discontinue treatment of patients, the epidemic becomes a greater threat to the whole of humanity.
Questions still remain:
- Should healthcare workers be obligated to treat the ailing?
- What can be done to ensure the safety of medical professionals?
- Should there be repercussions if the workers refuse to treat the afflicted?
- Can we contain the epidemic without resolving these concerns?
- Will the fear alone affect treatment in non-affected regions?