Archive for public health

The Year of COVID-19 with Dr. Anthony Fauci

By Noah Smith, RightsViews staff writer and a graduate student in the human rights MA program 

On December 10, the Dean’s Grand Rounds on the Future of Public Health had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Anthony Fauci to discuss the year of COVID-19 and the future of public health. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown a sobering light on unequivocally broken, systematically racist and unequal health systems which have done little to support communities of color, the vulnerable and the elderly. It has also starkly illuminated our nation’s absence of a public health system charged with protecting the health of all citizens. The Dean’s Grands Rounds sought to examine these challenges as well as deepen our understanding, research, teaching and action on this topic, through examining the year that changed everything and the very future of public health.

    The Dean of the Mailman School of Public Health, Dr. Linda Fried, moderated the event and asked Dr. Fauci predetermined questions sent in by students as well as faculty. Dr. Fauci commenced his presentation by discussing both the public health as well as the scientific challenges associated with this unprecedented pandemic. He discussed the nature of coronavirus by highlighting a paper he co-wrote in January of this year titledCoronavirus Infections—More Than Just the Common Cold.”In this paper Dr. Fauci points out that we have had experiences with coronaviruses for decades now and presented a coronavirus phylogenetic tree in humans. It was not until 2002 and 2012 when we were confronted with the unusual experience of two coronaviruses that had potential pandemic effects. These were Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). SARS was assuaged by a lack of transmissibility from human to human and effective public health protocols and MERS still exists to this day, but does not pose a significant threat.

    Dr. Fauci then discussed the current pandemic, articulating that COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. He articulated that this disease is the most impactful respiratory pandemic, due to its high transmission rate and a national lack of adherence to safety protocols, since the 1918 Spanish Flu . As we examine the cases as they evolved over the past six months, it becomes starkly evident that Covid-19 has become an unmitigated disaster, affecting the entire country almost equally, with the U.S. leading the globe in both infections and deaths.

   With the promise of a vaccine on the near horizon, Dr. Fauci discussed a troubling article from Science which found that just 50% of Americans plan to get the vaccine. The statistics for minority populations was far more dire with only 37% of Latine and 25% of African American respondents stating they would take the vaccine. In order to subdue COVID-19 we need to vaccinate a much higher proportion of the population than expressed an interest in getting the vaccine. Therefore, convincing people of the transparency and safety of a vaccine is a public health necessity. Dr. Fauci spoke of the transparency with which these vaccines have been developed, stating that he personally advocated for the inclusion of marginalized communities in the clinical trials. Articulating that Moderna’s clinical trials were composed of 10% African American and 20% Latine participants.

   As the event drew to an end, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Fried turned their attention to the current socio-political climate as well as the necessary public health response to the pandemic. Dr. Fauci spoke of the imperative necessity with which we need depoliticize scientific discourse, stating that “ when you are dealing with a public health issue there should be no such a thing as politics because it is a uniform effort that involves everyone regardless of your political ideology.’’ In his final remarks, Dr. Fauci articulated that a vaccine is on the very near horizon and through adhering to public safety protocol we can crush this pandemic, however the only way we can do this is if we do it all together, with as many people as possible getting vaccinated and through continued adherence to public safety guidelines.

 The Year of Covid-19 with Dr. Anthony Fauci (Event Recording)  

Cover photo credit to National Institutes of Health // Creative Commons

A State’s Responsibility in an Epidemic: Human Rights and the Coronavirus Outbreak

Guest Contributors Bodhisattwa Majumder and Devashish Giri are penultimate year students at Maharashtra Law University Mumbai. Their interests include Constitutional Law, Public International law and Maritime law. Any discussion related to the paper can be made via mail at bodhisattwa@mnlumumbai.edu.in or Giridevashish15@gmail.com

The outbreak of Coronavirus or COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) from Wuhan, China (“People’s Republic of China “) has engulfed as many as twenty four countries across the globe with a medical emergency and has claimed more than 3,800 lives as of now. 

This strain of the virus is graver than the other types of Coronaviruses as it has never been identified in humans before. Coronavirus belongs to the zoonotic group of viruses which can affect a human being with a range of health ailments ranging from the common cold to serious problems such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The World Health Organization and other countries including the US have declared it as a “Global Public Health Emergency”.  In order to restrict the transmission of the virus, however, China has taken various restrictive measures which have caused serious human rights violations including but not limited to arbitrary censorships, lockdowns, quarantines, police suppression, and mass detentions.

In outbreaks of viruses with communicable properties, response time in communicating information and alerting the public and world about the dangers of the virus is of the essence. Even a delay of a month can have a huge impact; in the absence of proper information, crowded public places act as the hub for transmission. 

Early on in the outbreak of Coronavirus, citizens of China were deprived of their freedom of expression and free speech. The Wuhan province was under strict observation by the Chinese government, and any information related to the outbreak was termed as mere “rumours” and prohibited from being shared across any social media platform. There were numerous reported instances of police suppression when doctors, nurses and other associated personnel working in the frontlines faced strict penal measures by the police on grounds of spreading the information related to the virus.

 It was only due to a brave whistleblower, Chinese Dr. Li Wenliang, who risked his own safety and livelihood to spread news of the outbreak in Wuhan to his alumni peers via WeChat, that the world was able to learn about this dangerous phenomenon that China had tried to keep under wraps. He sent his message on December 30, and China alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) about its outbreak on December 31. Since January 1, researchers have learned that China has been censoring WeChat accounts for words related to the Cornonavirus, blocking certain combinations or anything negative towards President Xi Jinping.  Furthermore, China placed the entire affected province under lockdown without any prior notice, which deprived the residents any chance to ensure the availability of basic amenities of life such as food and medicine. Such a measure has affected vulnerable populations of society, including those with disabilities, illness, and the elderly and deprived them of their essential needs. These are direct violations to their right to health. There has been a mass-quarantine process of millions of people for the cause of limiting the spread from the city of Wuhan. Any offering measure by any section of society be it, Lawyers, Activists or Artists, has been prohibited, censored, threatened and harassed by the organs of the government. Despite having strict regulations against discrimination regarding communicable diseases, the machinery has apparently failed.

Coronavirus has not limited itself to Chinese province and other South-East Asian states have been affected, although not every state has adopted measures which violate human rights. Amidst the Chaos, the approach of Singapore has been a silver lining, which has won praises for its benevolence and informative approach rather than an authoritarian one. Singapore’s approach has been direct and effective to reduce panic, rumours and conspiracy theories, aligning itself correctly with the statement of the Prime Minister which was posted on social media in three languages, “Fear can do more harm than the virus itself. The speech alone was proven effective as the following weekend witnessed a reduction in crowds in the city-state. The Singaporean approach included prevention, contact tracing, quarantine and access to information. Singapore’s official website of the Ministry of Communications and Information provided useful and practical advisories on topics such as ‘When to See a Doctor’, ‘What happens to suspect cases’ and ‘How to practice good personal hygiene’. The approach of Singapore prioritized the welfare and safety of citizens over political stability and economic costs, which won praise across the world. Singapore was among the most affected regions of Asia (Orange alert). Still, it chose to inform its citizens rather than bury the situation. The constant live news coverage, transparency about developments, and inclusion of health workers in planning has proved to be effective in controlling the situation and reducing  panic among citizens. 

Public International Law dictates that regardless of a health emergency or an epidemic, the measures taken to affect human rights should be legal, necessary, reasonable and proportional. Every measure must be recorded in evidence and there should be strict adherence to the procedure prescribed. An undemocratic regime leaves no scope for a consequence to the state for failures in terms of epidemic response and as a result, there is no accountability from the state. The people residing in affected areas are shunned out without any scope for the expression of dissent or discontent or even a cry for help from the international community. Human rights cannot be allowed to be violated under the garb of a health emergency and every nation should take a lesson from the incident of the Coronavirus outbreak. The priority of taking measures to restrict the outbreak lies in equal pedestal with the significance of following due process without depriving the people of their human rights. The international community needs to take a stand, and every response from a government during the outbreak of an epidemic or a pandemic must be within the four corners of human rights.