We must understand that all public health disasters involve death. The 1976 Ebola outbreak in Sudan killed 53% of its infected individuals. The same was true of the 1979 Ebola Zaire outbreak, which killed 89%. In addition to human lives, these disasters disrupt the lives of dependents, parents, and relatives. Sadly, the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed more than half of its infected individuals.
The global spread of infectious diseases requires a reorientation of morality. Individualism, which emphasizes the autonomy of individuals, is unsustainable in a global context. Instead, a relational-based morality reckons with the relationships between human beings, microbial life, and infected communities. Public health disasters can only solve collective problems if we consider their underlying causes.
The dilemmas of public health crisis ethics are often complex, with significant moral issues. Often, societies must sacrifice the rights of some people to protect their overall survival. In the context of a public health disaster, human rights issues become nuanced, with political and non-rights considerations often at the core of the decisions made. Therefore, we must recognize the ethical dilemmas inherent in such events. If we cannot answer these questions, we may as well give up on the idea of public health and call it a “disaster.”