Ethics Lessons Learned and Lessons Remaining from the Last Global Public Health Crisis: Ebola and COVID-19

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University of Madrid

Like the 2014-2015 multi-country Ebola outbreak (WHO 2014), the COVID-19 pandemic has presented ethical challenges in nearly every sphere of life. Unlike Ebola, which was largely contained to three contiguous countries in western Africa, COVID- 19 reached pandemic status shortly following its start in December 2019 in Wuhan China (China CDC 2020). Two different viruses, two different epidemics, but many similar ethical dimensions. Both the Ebola and COVID-19 epidemics are caused by viruses that were poorly understood at the start of the outbreak. At the time of both outbreaks, there were no known effective treatments or vaccines for either disease. Limited and rapidly changing empirical data made communicating with the public challenging. Both diseases require isolation of the infected and elaborate personal protective equipment to prevent transmission to the medical staff who provided care and funeral staff who prepared the deceased for burial. Both diseases required swift epidemiologic and clinical research to reduce morbidity and mortality. Both diseases frightened communities and exacerbated existing inequities. With many medical and ethical commonalities, perhaps the lessons from the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic could guide the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.