In a WhatsApp message, purported to have been written by Dr Sylvia Blyden, (Not verified), she appears to praise President Maada Bio “for many aspects of this fight against the outbreak of the Covid-19 in Sierra Leone”. She praises the government’s “proactiveness, farsightedness and alacrity” as great on many counts. interestingly, she “categorically asserts” that the government’s “non-transparent policies may hasten the spread of the virus instead of slowing it down”. At this point, it is worth noting that the excerpts quoted above are from a WhatsApp message attributed to Sylvia Blyden, but I have very little reason to doubt the veracity.
Sylvia takes issue with the government for allegedly withholding the identities of the initial cases; and that by so doing allows further contacts with others; hence more infections. In order to back up her assertions, she employs the national constitution that “states clearly under chapter 3, that in the interest of public health, there are no limitations to human rights including all rights to privacy: She finds the government’s alleged “non transparency” as “destructive”. You be the judge.
Sylvia carries on saying that if Aki-Sawyerr was the Mayor of a “civilised western country, she will be ethical enough to respect the citizens of her city”. There you have it. According to Sylvia, the citizens of Freetown are not civilised; she never ceases to insult the intelligence of this nation.
The Hippocratic Oath is one of the oldest binding documents in history; that was written by Hippocrates and still held sacred by physicians: to treat the ill to the best of one’s ability, to preserve a patient’s privacy, to teach the secrets of medicine to the next generation, and so on. This oath is observed along the lines of autonomy(respecting patient’s choice), beneficence (doing what is in the best interest of your patient), non-maleficence ( do no harm) and justice ( doing what’s best for society as a whole). A close inspection of these naturally presents some ethical gymnastics. It is obvious to see the kind of ethical headache and conundrum that medics and health professionals face; especially in this case. There is a potential for a clash between doing justice and respecting the patient’s autonomy here.
Sylvia rightly quoted the interest of the public, which at face value overrides the patient’s autonomy in this case. But by doing so, is there not the risk of maleficence, if justice is to be done? It is true that there are no limitations to human rights, including all rights to privacy. This means that in some cases and especially this one, the rights of the public can override that of the individual’s rights. Unfortunately, Sylvia, the interest of the public does not mean the right to publicise. The interest of the public does not mean that the identities of the individuals must be made public; because doing so may put the lives of the individuals in harm’s way; hence maleficence.
There is no doubt that the individuals that Sylvia is alluding to, if true, pose a significant risk of transmitting the disease, if the usual measures are not meted. What she should be asking the authorities is whether such measures have been taken to identify them, whether there has been some contact tracing, isolation and if required, treatment. As a medical professional, and in line with your Hippocratic oath, this is where the expectation is to contact the relevant authorities (medical) to address the situation as mentioned above. You cannot justify publicising their identities on Facebook or WhatsApp as in the public’s interest. That does not in any way minimise the potential risk factors of protecting their identities. What would be wrong is, if the government fails to take the necessary steps to address the risks. When it comes down to it, such justifications, criticisms or ethical considerations should be taken along what is or has been done to address the issues.
Our nation, like all others, is facing difficult times. The situation is drastic and as such may require drastic solutions. Thankfully, we have an unenviable experience with a similar situation, from which we expect lessons to have been learned. Like I said in my last article, if our country is to stand any chance of surviving the ravages of this pandemic, much of that will be rooted in the preventive measures we will have to take. Considering that our ability for contact tracing is next to nil, much of these preventive measures will be about “lockdowns”. That is a drastic measure; but we are facing drastic times.
However, this is not an excuse to disown common sense; which is not common. Nevertheless, we should not take the concept of “lockdown” as a vaccine, a cure or insulation for complacency. Lockdowns are simply to slow down the rate of infection, and as such increase the chances of identifying and treating the afflicted. Lockdowns are not the answer but part of the answer; especially where our medical facilities themselves require vaccination.
That is even more reason for implementing this with common sense. The government has recently issued a further two- week lockdown. It is going to be hard, painful and sometimes near impossible to manage. But one cannot argue with the rationale. When you consider that the shopping habits of the majority is not a weekly chore, and that 99.2 percent of the population have a loose relationship with refrigeration; not withstanding the lack of a viable system for drinking water and electricity, the issues become more compounded and bordering on human rights abuses. Unfortunately, that seems a bitter pill that we may have to swallow; to save lives. We hope that in its bid to address this national issue, the government a will consider making a very painful situation less painful. But that should not blind us to the very serious, unforgiving and deadly nature of Covid-19.
I understand that Sylvia is a medical doctor, congratulations. It is understandable to ask such questions and bring such concerns into the narrative. What some of us are not sure of is which hat she is wearing here; the politicians or the medics. Don’t answer that. It ss worrisome that someone who it is hoped, had taken the Hippocratic oath is advocating for the identities of the afflicted to be made public. What does Sylvia hope the public will do for these victims, if they know their identities? Oh, I forgot, we will have an avalanche of blood donors.
There is a strong temptation to conclude that the oxygen (pardon the pun) for this scrutiny is dyed in political persuasion. There is no way that Sylvia can convince the majority that her stance is from purely a medical point of view. At face value, it appears well meaning. Sadly, such thoughts seem to be adulterated and lost in translation; thanks to the undesirability of politics. These are difficult times for all of us. Our politicians should try and resist the temptation to weaponise this pandemic. If we needed to live and act as one, there could be no better time to promote national cohesion. We are all in these together. Making political capital out of the misery of the public is not only insulting but gnawingly abhorrent.
There is a follow up WhatsApp message allegedly from Sylvia again, in which she does not understand why “First Lady Fatima is struggling to justify why the identities of the patients are kept quiet”. I hope this message is not true, but if it is, I am beginning to see who the real virus is in our society. Why some people celebrate and glorify the afflictions of others is beyond comprehension.
For discussion sake, since Sylvia was one of the bastions of the former Koroma government, can she give us a list and biography of all those that suffered from, died and were killed by the Ebola virus? Talking about Ebola, here is a brain teaser. A- who contracted and died from the Ebola disease? B- What happened to the Ebola funds? Please send all answers to the Commission of Inquiry. At a time, when the whole country is required to act and live as one, in the face of a common enemy, it is really unfortunate to see a self -anointed champion of the people, driven by everything that is wrong in politics, putting party interest in the guise of public interest.
No one is questioning Sylvia’s right to criticise, scrutinise or otherwise of the government’s handling of the situation. But in doing so, just to score cheap political points, at the expense of her sacred medical oath is nothing short of bringing the profession into disrepute. Has Sylvia even thought of the repercussions of naming and in effect shaming the victims? Has she considered what the reaction of society and their family members will be if these people were named? Has Sylvia forgotten how many people and especially children were disowned, abandoned and ostracised by family members; when their only crime was unfortunately being Ebola victims?
I hope that Sierra Leoneans will remember that one finger does not kill a louse; for no matter how beautiful and well crafted a coffin might look, it will not make anyone wish for death.
Don’t forget to turn the lights off and wash your hands.