Moving Beyond Influenza: The Ethics of Pandemic Planning for Infectious Diseases and the Moral Foundations of Public Health
Governments and society around the world have paid much attention to preparing for an influenza pandemic. ‘Pandemic influenza’ is a version of the flu that spreads over a large geographical area that may or may not be severe. Pandemic influenza could potentially devastate the healthcare and public health systems of towns and cities by overwhelming our ability to cope with the increase in demand for resources. How we distribute scarce medical resources during a pandemic has many ethical questions; for example, should beds go to the sickest first, or should they first go to those persons with the greatest chance of recovery?
However, we argue that too much attention has been directed to the threat of influenza pandemics and not enough attention has been focused on other infectious diseases that could become pandemics. For example, drug resistant gonorrhea or tuberculosis, and new coronavirus strains in hospitals, all threaten the ability of healthcare and public health systems to cope with a surge in demands on hospital and community resources. These other infectious diseases, should they develop into pandemics, require their own ethical analysis and reflection.
Moreover, we argue that planning for pandemics cannot be limited to merely thinking about the effects of pandemics on healthcare resources, which has largely been the focus of influenza pandemic plans. Attention must be given to the ethics of preventing pandemics and to the many issues that arise when recovering from a pandemic.