For me one of the key ethical questions about this latest pandemic is how much attention and resource it should get in relation to the myriad other life-and-death issues and human rights violations that already exist, many on a much larger scale than COVID-19.
I don’t want to get too fixated on data, but it’s worth quoting some just for context. The orders of magnitude are such that precision isn’t really necessary.
As I write, about 1.5 million cases of COVID-19 have been recorded, with about 100,000 deaths associated with it so far:
- According to data on Worldometers it seems that if you have caught the virus, you are more likely to die from it if you are old, have pre-existing conditions and are male (I have no idea why!)
- According to the WHO about 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty. These will be of all age and sex demographics.
- According to OurWorldInData about 1.5 million people die from diarrheal diseases every year, and these are known to be overwhelmingly poor people in poor countries. It is largely the very old and very young who are affected. 1.5 million a year is over 4,000 a day, over 100,000 a month.
There are many other figures and issues I could quote, and I’d definitely recommend you have a rummage for yourself to see what catches your eye. This topic caught mine simply because it points to inexcusable injustices in the distribution of wealth around the world. But the point is that not everything was running smoothly across the world before COVID-19, nor is it the only issue faced in the world now, nor will it be once the immediate global reaction to the virus passes.
Clearly, world poverty and related diseases can’t be fixed overnight, or even in one year. However, the UN “Right to Health” factsheet gives us a pointer as to perhaps how we should act going forwards in this pandemic period. It states that “Not all aspects of… [human] rights… can or may be realized immediately, but at a minimum States must show that they are making every possible effort, within available resources, to better protect and promote all rights.”
The two phrases “available resources” and “all rights” indicate that we need to have a proportionate response to any one issue. We should make an appropriate amount of resources available to deal with the issues faced, bearing in mind that other issues won’t put themselves on pause while our attention is diverted. We must not neglect other issues that may be even greater, even if they are more entrenched and harder for the politicians to deal with.