UNESCO provides Ethical Frameworks to COVID-19 Responses

Harare, Zimbabwe
03 - Good Health & Well Being

As the world is responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic, quick decision-making is vital. But it can also become a challenging exercise when ethical questions and sometimes dilemmas arise in a context of emergency where human lives and human dignity are threatened. The UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa (ROSA) has stepped up to provide ethical frameworks to decision-makers and frontline professionals in this difficult time.

When medical resources are scarce in times of pandemics, what are the criteria for choice and decision-making? In times of national lockdowns, whose dignity and livelihood are threatened while a society attempts to preventively save lives? Does the imperative urgent search for a cure override the regular research ethical standards? How shall we balance the fundamental rights to privacy, and the need to trace individuals with digital technologies for the sake of prevention? 

These are some of the difficult questions that decision makers, healthcare professionals and researchers around the world are facing today, as the COVID-19 pandemic has put states, public health systems, economies, societies, communities, and individuals under utmost pressure. 

In their Joint Statement on COVID-19: Ethical Considerations from a Global Perspective, UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee (IBC) and UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) insisted that “a bioethics and ethics of science and technology perspective, rooted in human rights, should play a key role in the context of this challenging pandemic”.

At a time of uncertainty, when societies across the globe take rapid and radical measures against the pandemic, I am concerned about potential threats to human rights, privacy and ethical standards, especially towards the most vulnerable. This crisis calls for the best in humanity with ethical principles as our compass.

UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay

The recent and constantly evolving developments of the COVID-19 pandemic raise major ethical questions that will, in one way or another, transform our habits, practices, and theories. In this context, UNESCO ROSA considers it vital to assist the Member States by providing solid grounds for collective and reasoned reflections on key ethical issues pertaining to the medical treatment, the prevention and containment policies, as well as the scientific research that is more than ever needed.

Despite the lockdown measures, prominent ethicists, bioethicists, philosophers, and healthcare professionals from around the world have taken up the challenge in sending from their homes a series of videos, highlighting the key ethical considerations, as well as practical recommendations to assist the frontline fighters against the virus and its long-term social impacts. 

We hope members of the Ad-hoc Inter-ministerial Committees, healthcare professionals, the media, medical researchers and law enforcement officials would find these resourceful materials that could assist them in delivering their respective missions. 

The topics covered are as follows: 

  1. From the view of Solidarity in Times of COVID-19 Pandemic, Prof. Johan Hattingh, Stellenbosh University (South Africa)  
  2. A view from Environmental Ethics in Times of COVID-19 Pandemic, Prof. Johan Hattingh (South Africa), Chair of the UNESCO Expert Group on the Ethics of Climate Change
  3. Caring for the Carers in Times of COVID-19 Pandemic, Prof. Ames Dhai, Chairperson of the South Africa NBC (South Africa)
  4. Ethical and Scientific Communication in Times of COVID-19 Pandemic, Prof. Vitoria Afonso Langa de Jesus, Directora Executiva do Fundo Nacional de Investigacao (FNI) (Mozambique)
  5. Ethics and Digital Technologies in Times of COVID-19 Pandemic, Dr. Hervé Chneiweiss (France), Chairperson of UNESCO International Bioethics Committee (IBC)
  6. Scientific and Ethical Research in times of COVID-19 pandemic, Prof. Pierre-Paul Verbeek (The Netherlands), Chairperson of UNESCO World Commission on Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technologies (COMEST)
  7. Responsibility to Anticipate in Times of COVID-19 Pandemic, Prof. Marie-Genevieve Pinsart (Belgium), Member of UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee (IBC), Free University of Brussels
  8. Public Reasoning and Transparency in Decision Making in Times of COVID-19 Pandemic, Prof. Emma Ruttkamp-Bloem (South Africa), member of  UNESCO World Commission on Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technologies (COMEST)
  9. Paradoxes, Uncertainties and Obligation to Act in Times of COVID-19 Pandemic, Prof. Ali Benmakhlouf (France), Senior member of Institut Universitaire de France, Paris-Est Creteil University
  10. Caring for Mental Illnesses in Times of COVID-19 Pandemic, Prof. Sami Richa, Member of the Lebanese Consultative Committee of Ethics
  11. Intergenerational Responsibility and Environmental Ethics in times of COVID-19 Pandemic, Chiagozie Udeh, Chairperson of the Global Executive Board Plant¬-for-¬the-Planet Initiative (Nigeria)
  12. Ethical Guidelines to Mitigate the Unforeseen Consequences in times of COVID-19 Pandemic, Prof. Alice Mutungi, Chairperson of the National Bioethics Committee, (Kenya)
  13. Full Disclosure and Informed Consent in times of COVID-19, Prof. Jim Unah, President of the Philosophers Association of Nigeria
  14. Fighting Stigma and Racism in times of COVID-19 Pandemic, Prof. Tendayi Achiume, UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (Zimbabwe)
  15. Ethical Consideration of Triage Systems in COVID-19 Pandemic, Dr Walter Mangezi, Chairperson of the Department of Health Professions Education (HPE), University of Zimbabwe
  16. Human Dignity, Equality and Treatment in times of COVID-19 Pandemic, Prof. Japhet Bakuwa, Member of the UNESCO’ World Commission on the Ethics of Science and Technology (COMEST) (Malawi)
  17. Addressing Violence Against Women and Girls in times of COVID-19 pandemic, Memory Kadau, Co-Director of Adult and Adolescent Rape Clinic (ARC) (Zimbabwe)
  18. Coordinated Communication in times of COVID-19 pandemic, Prof. Evariste Likinda, Chairperson of the National Bioethics Committee of Democratic Republic of Congo

  19. Justice and solidarity in times of COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Aissatou Touré, Immonologist, Deputy Chair of the National Ethics Committee for Research on health (Senegal)

The videos were produced in partnership and with the contribution of the Bioethics and Ethics of Science Section at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris (France), the UNESCO Regional Office in Abuja (Nigeria), the UNESCO Regional Office in Dakar (Senegal), the UNESCO Regional Office for Central Africa in Yaoundé (Cameroon), the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa in Nairobi (Kenya), the UNESCO Office in Beirut (Lebanon), and the UNESCO Office in Cairo (Egypt). 

Additional Information:

Contact Person

Phinith Chanthalangsy
Programme Specialist - Social and Human Sciences