Human rights and ethics key in public health interventions – Mak researchers

Makerere University researchers have asked Government to consider human rights and ethics in strengthening Public Health Responses to COVID-19.

Dr  John Baruhagare, the Principal InvestigatorThe call follows a study by researchers from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHUSS) and Makerere University School of Public Health that sought to address the negative effects of COVID-19 preventive measures on people’s livelihoods.

The study titled “Strengthening Public Health Responses to COVID-19 through Explicit Integration ofDr Julius Kikooma, Ag. Deputy Principal, CHUSS Human Rights and Ethics Considerations in Designing and Implementing Public Health Responses in Uganda” was conducted in the areas of Kampala and Mukono districts. It was supported by the Government of Uganda through the Makerere Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF).

Disseminating the study findings at Makerere University on 21st January2021, Dr John Barugahare –the Principal Investigator noted that at the onset of COVID-19, many countries were not prepared to deal with the pandemic, a factor that greatly undermined the viability of public health responses. “There were many controversies arising from the measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19. Whereas several people thought the Government of Uganda had setup scientifically efficient measures, the majority expressed concern over the lack of sensitivity to human rights in the implementation of the measures,” he noted. According to the researchers, the high-handedness of security forces and the perceived unjustifiable differential treatment in the implementation of COVID-19 prevention measures largely undermined human rights. The researchers also noted that restrictions on movements largely affected access to food and essential health services, factors that negatively impacted people’s social wellbeing.  They observed that inappropriate measures such as getting permission from the RDC to take a sick person to hospital greatly undermined people’s rights. 

The research team noted that there was need to think about the social dynamics of pandemics, saying scientifically proven measures cannot be implemented successfully unless they focus so well on the social, psychological and ethical dynamics within society.

They called for public participation and consultation (community/public engagement, Virtue ethics and compassion, stewardship, transparency, accountability and; reciprocity especially to frontline workers.

Dr Specioza Wandira Kazibwe was one of the consultants on the projectSpeaking at the seminar, Dr Julius Kikooma, Acting Deputy Principal of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHUSS) underscored the crucial role of social scientists in addressing public health challenges. “Social scientists come in handy in addressing the behaviour aspects that would undermine the effectiveness of public health responses,” he noted.

In her remarks, Dr. Specioza Wandera Kazibwe, Senior Presidential Advisor on Health & Population, Ministry of Health and consultant to the project commended the research team for conducting a study that values people and their rights in public health response.

She emphasized the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to learning in higher institutions, noting that the social and natural scientists should work in tandem in trying to address public health challenges.

In his remarks, Dr. Robert Wamala, representative of the Mak-RIF Grant Management Committee applauded the research team for the well-thought out project, noting that incorporating human rights and ethics in public health responses was crucial for improving people’s social wellbeing.

He acknowledged the support from the Government of Uganda and affirmed Makerere University’s commitment to supporting multi-disciplinary research to make Uganda a better place.

The dissemination event was attended by academics from Makerere and other universities, representatives from government ministries and agencies, development partners and representatives from the Civil Society Organizations.

Project team

  1. Dr. John Barugahare - Department of Philosophy, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and SUSTAIN (Bioethics) Program, College of Health Sciences Makerere University,
  2.  Dr. George Upenytho, Consultant Public Health (MoH),Commissioner Health Services-Community Health, Ministry of Health.
  3. Dr. Kiguli Juliet, Department of Community Health, School of Public Health, College of Health Sciences, Makerere University
  4. Assoc. Prof. Mwaka S. Erisa, MD, Ph.D.  School of Biomedical Sciences, College of Health Sciences, and SUSTAIN (Bioethics) Program, College of Health Sciences Dr Robert Wamala delivering his remarksMakerere University
  5. Assoc. Prof. Ochieng Joseph, MD.   School of Biomedical Sciences, College of Health Sciences and SUSTAIN (Bioethics) Program, College of Health Sciences Makerere University.

Study Consultants/Advisors 

  1. Hon. Dr. Specioza Wandira-Kazibwe, MD., Senior Presidential Advisor on Health & Population, Ministry of Health; Member, African Union Panel of the Wise & Co-Chair FemWise-Africa Vice President (Emeritus), Republic of Uganda.
  2. Prof. A.B. Rukooko, Department of Philosophy, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Makerere University
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