ResourcesPress Release

International Community is Legally Obligated to Respond to Ebola Crisis

States Must Take Specific and Immediate Actions Beyond Quarantine

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said today that an urgent response to the Ebola outbreak is not just an option, but a legal obligation, and outlined immediate actions states must take, including assuring safe conditions for health care workers and using appropriate containment strategies.

“The delayed response of governments that have the ability to support countries in West Africa has already led to the loss of far too many lives,” said Widney Brown, PHR’s director of programs. “The U.N. Security Council's special session should be a wake-up call for all countries to provide life-saving support, and do so immediately. This is not about charity, it’s about human lives.”

PHR pointed out that with respect to economic, social, and cultural rights, states are obligated to provide international cooperation and assistance. Closing borders to people traveling from West Africa and effectively just mailing a check does not meet the obligations set out in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), PHR said.

PHR outlined immediate actions that must be taken to address the Ebola outbreak:

  • Provide global support for a coordinated region-wide assessment. A team of experts should immediately conduct an assessment about what actions are needed to effectively track the outbreak, identify the spread of the disease, and ensure trained and well-equipped medical workers are available to respond.
  • Assure safe conditions for and treatment of health care workers. The international community must provide the supplies and expertise necessary to create safe working conditions for health care workers responding to the public health crisis.
  • Ensure a coordinated strategy for distributing information. Governments must make every effort to provide all people with access to information about Ebola, including how it is transmitted, how to prevent contracting the virus, and where to seek treatment.
  • Implement appropriate strategies for containing the spread of Ebola. Governments have sometimes focused on containing the disease to specific areas more than the difficult work of contact tracing, which requires working with patients to track those who could have been exposed and checking them for symptoms. If a government determines that a quarantine is necessary, the Siracusa Principles – which are designed to guide decisions restricting the right to movement – must be applied, so that restrictions are based on scientific evidence and carried out in accordance with the law.

PHR said the Ebola outbreak has also exposed the deeper problems of ailing health care systems in affected countries, which must be addressed through long-term actions, including having disaster preparedness plans in place and public health laws that are in line with human rights standards.

“Investment in the health care systems of these countries will go a long way toward ensuring that future outbreaks are contained and the loss of life is minimized,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director. “The response needs to be twofold: save lives now and fix the system for the future."

PHR submitted its recommendations on the Ebola crisis to member states of the U.N. Security Council in anticipation of their special session today.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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