Online Program

Emergency Preparedness: Applying Ethical Practices to Deliver Alternative Methods of Care for an Ebola Outbreak in the United States

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Jennifer Tripken, Ed.D., CHES, Health and Human Performance Department, Marymount University, Arlington, VA
Susan Mbawuike, B.A., Department of Health and Human Performance, Marymount University, Arlington, VA
Ayan Ibrahim, CHES, M.S., CCI Health and Wellness Services, Germantown, MD
Catherine Lopez, M.S., Department of Health and Human Performance, Marymount University, Falls Church, VA
Whitney Carrington, MS, U.S. Army Office of the Surgeon General, South Boston, VA
According to the CDC (2014), the West African Ebola outbreak could spread to over half a million people if current trends continue.  The World Health Organization reports that there has been over 22,000 confirmed cases of Ebola across Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, as well as in many countries across the globe.  Although the outbreak has primarily been contained to West African countries, the possibility that an outbreak can occur on U.S. soil has become a reality, with both the air travel of civilians and the practice of evacuating American health care workers infected with Ebola from West Africa to the U.S. for treatment.  So far, preparedness for an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. has focused largely on developing a vaccine and effective treatment practices.  However, no preparedness plan is complete without addressing the ethical issues likely to confront our society during an outbreak.

There are difficult moral questions that the U.S. needs to address while there is still time to think critically, carefully, and calmly about what ethical values should guide decision makers, healthcare workers, and the general public in the event of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. These questions include, among others:

  • Do health care workers have a duty to help Ebola victims even if doing so means risking their own lives or those of their families?
  • If health care workers bravely accept these risks, what will society give them in return? 
  • How will Americans react when outbreak containment measures such as isolation and quarantine are implemented?
  • Who should have priority for limited healthcare supplies such as vaccines and convalescent blood transfusions?

This presentation will seek to answer these questions by using ethical principles and values and by applying similar ethical guidelines developed for pandemic influenza in the U.S.  It is imperative that we ethically maintain the value of justice by directing scarce resources to where they will do the most good for us all and by letting the public know why it is we have chosen a particular distribution method. The preparation for an outbreak will ultimately ensure that the U.S. can survive.

Learning Areas:

Ethics, professional and legal requirements

Learning Objectives:
Describe the ethical questions involved in the event of an Ebola outbreak on U.S. soil. Evaluate the principles of public health ethics in developing the guidelines for preparedness for an Ebola outbreak. Compare and contrast the ethical guidelines for pandemic influenza to the ethical guidelines for an Ebola outbreak

Keyword(s): Ethics, Emergency Preparedness

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I hold a doctoral degree in the field of study and have been teaching at the University level for several years in Public Health. I have conducted numerous research studies and projects on ethical issues in public health.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.