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Embracing UNESCO’s ethical concept in COVID-19 response

วันที่เผยแพร่ 20 May 2020

Thailand’s National Committee on Ethics of Science and Technology has expressed concern over the COVID-19 pandemic and suggested that the concept in the Statement on COVID-19: Ethical Considerations from a Global Perspective, issued by the UNESCO International Bioethics Committee (IBC) and the UNESCO World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) is used as a guideline in the decision making and operation as the country is attempting to overcome the crisis.  

In the statement, IBC and COMEST call for collaboration from all parties to engage in a dialogue to find solutions to this aggravating situation and for bioethics and ethics committees at all levels to play a key role in the solution finding process. The statement highlighted on some pressing issues that need urgent attentions such as the design and implementation of evidence-based health and social policies, equal access to healthcare, honest and transparent communication with the public, international collaboration and the international coordination of ethical review of scientific experiments and clinical trials. 

Dr. Somsak Chunharas, Chairman of Thailand’s National Committee on Ethics of Science and Technology has issued a statement encouraging concerted efforts from all sectors to engage in the development of policies and measures that will lead Thailand out of this crisis safely. The policy decision does not rest on the hands of policy makers alone, but people must participate in the decision process as well as the implementation. 

In an attempt to manage the situation, there is a debate over three choices: people’s health and safety, people’s right to lead a normal life and uninterrupted economic activities. It may seem that there is only one choice to be made, but in fact, as Dr. Somsak pointed out, the three can co-exist. We just need to find and achieve the balance. 

During this crisis, research and innovation have emerged as a key to facilitate the development of knowledge, technology and measures to fight this battle. As the scientific communities throughout the world are in a race against time to find effective preventions and treatments of COVID-19, an acceleration of ethical review of scientific experiments and clinical trials is needed, as well as the shift in IP protection objective from individual interest to public benefit. 

The lockdown measure aimed at curbing the disease transmission has made substantial impact to the global economy. Governments of many countries, including Thailand, have introduced economic relief measures to help their people. It is essential that the measures are fair and accessible to vulnerable groups in the society. 

Health system needs to be able to cope with a surge in patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, while maintaining services to patients already in the system before the COVID-19 hits. On one hand, the government will need to allocate more resources to support healthcare, but on the other hand, the health system seriously needs to make some adjustments as this challenge will remain for quite some time. 

The above are some examples that ethical concept can help guide the policies and also encourage the society to be more engaging and collaborative. The National Committee on Ethics of Science and Technology would like to appeal to all parties to utilize the ethical concept as well as social and economic context of Thailand to solve the problems in order to emerge from this crisis better and stronger together.