Ethics of Ebola, Zika Clinical Trials Focus of Oxford Conference

Karine Dubé, DrPH, shares  key messages from the Consortium of Universities for Global Health's annual meeting.

Karine Dubé, DrPH, is a research assistant professor in the UNC Gillings School for Global Public Health.

Karine Dubé, DrPH, shares highlights from the Oxford Global Health and Bioethics International Conference.

The second Global Health and Bioethics International Conference was held at Keble College in Oxford on July 17 – 18, 2017. The aim of the conference was to examine ethical issues in global health and foster interdisciplinary thinking in policy, practice and research. The meeting focused on recent infectious diseases outbreaks of Ebola and Zika and on the role of sustainability and solidarity in global health. Trends in global health ethics were also highlighted.

Ethical Considerations in Infectious Diseases Outbreaks: Ebola and Zika

  • Liza Dawson, research ethics team leader at the Division of AIDS (DAIDS), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Annette Rid, Senior Lecturer of Bioethics and Society at King’s College London provided an ethical framework for conducting clinical trials in public health emergencies and prioritizing research during epidemics. Considerations such as a clear justification for clinical research design and coordination with local authorities were discussed. The role of humanitarian ethics and trust with local communities were predominant themes.
  • Carleigh Krubiner, research scholar at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, examined ethical considerations for Zika virus (ZIKV) vaccine research and development, including responsiveness to the needs of pregnant women. With over 40 Zika vaccine candidates in the translational research pipeline, there is a need for concrete guidance on future ZIKV vaccines. Three imperatives were mentioned: 1) development of ZIKV vaccines that are acceptable for use by pregnant women; 2) development of ZIKV vaccines targeted to women of childbearing potential, and 3) fair access to participation in ZIKV vaccine trials that carry the prospect of direct benefit.
  • New World Health Organization (WHO) guidance on managing ethical issues in infectious diseases outbreaks can be found here.

Sustainability and Solidarity as Key Ethical Values in Global Health

  • Professor Angus Dawson, professor of bioethics at the University of Sydney, discussed the role of sustainability in global bioethics. Sustainability was defined as ‘the preservation of goods so that today’s needs are not prioritized in such a way that future needs will not be met.’ Sustainability requires ensuring the just distribution of goods through maintenance of that good across time. Antimicrobial resistance provided a great case study to discuss sustainability issues.
  • Dr. Peter West-Oram, political philosopher and bioethicist, examined achieving solidarity and justice in the context of refugee and migrant health. Recognizing solidarity as a foundation to global health ethics means sharing the ‘costs’ of assisting others. Solidarity encourages a more equitable and effective response to public health challenges, and requires a recognition of common threats to health.

Trends in Global Health Ethics

  • Jeffrey Kahn from the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics gave a plenary lecture on emerging trends in global health ethics. Factors such as increasing pressures on the environment, climate change, conflict and migration will continue to affect global health. The need for greater inter-disciplinarity in solving complex global health challenges was emphasized – including borrowing from disciplines such as economics, political science, engineering and psychology, among others.
  • The WHO published new guidelines on ethical issues in public health surveillance here.

The full program of the 2017 Global Health and Bioethics International Conference is available here.

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