BMC Medical Ethics 21 (1):1-12 (2020)

Kenny Nelson
Skidmore College
BackgroundIn response to COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Uganda adopted public health measures to contain its spread in the country. Some of the initial measures included refusal to repatriate citizens studying in China, mandatory institutional quarantine, and social distancing. Despite being a public health emergency, the measures adopted deserve critical appraisal using an ethics and human rights approach. The goal of this paper is to formulate an ethics and human rights criteria for evaluating public health measures and use it to reflect on the ethical propriety of those adopted by the government of Uganda to contain the spread of COVID-19.Main bodyWe begin by illustrating the value of ethics and human rights considerations for public health measures including during emergencies. We then summarize Uganda’s social and economic circumstances and some of the measures adopted to contain the spread of COVID-19. After reviewing some of the ethics and human rights considerations for public health, we reflect upon the ethical propriety of some of Uganda’s responses to COVID-19. We use content analysis to identify the measures adopted by the government of Uganda to contain the spread of COVID-19, the ethics and human rights considerations commonly recommended for public health responses and their importance. Our study found that some of the measures adopted violate ethics and human rights principles. We argue that even though some human rights can sometimes be legitimately derogated and limited to meet public health goals during public health emergencies, measures that infringe on human rights should satisfy certain ethics and human rights criteria. Some of these criteria include being effective, strictly necessary, proportionate to the magnitude of the threat, reasonable in the circumstances, equitable, and least restrictive. We reflect on Uganda’s initial measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 and argue that many of them fell short of these criteria, and potentially limit their effectiveness.ConclusionThe ethical legitimacy of public health measures is valuable in itself and for enhancing effectiveness of the measures. Such legitimacy depends on the extent to which they conform to ethics and human rights principles recommended for public health measures.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1186/s12910-020-00523-0
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 62,289
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Principles of Biomedical Ethics.Tom L. Beauchamp - 1979 - Oxford University Press.
Ethics and Public Health Emergencies: Restrictions on Liberty.Matthew K. Wynia - 2007 - American Journal of Bioethics 7 (2):1 – 5.

View all 6 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Public Health and the Rights of States.A. Miklos - 2009 - Public Health Ethics 2 (2):158-170.
Health, Human Rights, and Ethics.Eric Stover & Harvey Weinstein - 2001 - Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 10 (3):335-335.
Public Health and Human Rights.Rida Usman Khalafzai - 2009 - Chisholm Health Ethics Bulletin 14 (3):4.
Democracy, Human Rights and Women's Health.Jalil Safaei - 2012 - Mens Sana Monographs 10 (1):134.
Human Rights and Public Health Ethics.S. Matthew Liao - 2019 - Social Philosophy Today 35:9-20.
The COVID-19 Containment in Vietnam: What Are We Doing?Toan Luu Duc Huynh - 2020 - Journal of Global Health 10 (1):010338.
Public Health Paternalism—a Response to Nys.Stephen Holland - 2009 - Public Health Ethics 2 (3):285-293.
COVID-19 Ethics—Looking Down the Muzzle.Grant Gillett - 2020 - Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 17 (4):501-502.
Ethics and Public Health – A South African Perspective.Suraya Mohamed - 2018 - In Nico Nortjé, Jo-Celene De Jongh & Willem A. Hoffmann (eds.), African Perspectives on Ethics for Healthcare Professionals. Springer Verlag. pp. 235-249.


Added to PP index

Total views
8 ( #974,323 of 2,445,269 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
5 ( #149,359 of 2,445,269 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes