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Silhouettes on urban street.

Solidarity has been centred as a key guiding principle in public health ethics (West-Oram and Buyx 2017; Dawson and Jennings 2012) and in the response to public health emergencies (Kayo 2020; Pascoe and Stripling 2020).

It has been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to compliance to public health measures, access to life saving interventions, and data sharing (Dawson and Jennings 2012). At the global level, scholars and public figures have appealed to global solidarity as key to coordinating the Ebola and COVID-19 response, for example in the pooling and sharing of vaccines. However, it is unclear how these different groups understand solidarity when they use the concept (often strategically) to mobilise action.

Closely related to the principle of solidarity is the principle of reciprocity. There are often expectations of reciprocity in shared activities that are based on the principle of solidarity (Munung et al. 2021).

While solidarity may require individuals or groups to comply with interventions for the common good, for example isolation or travel prohibitions, there may be reciprocity-based obligations to provide essential goods and services to those burdened by these restrictive measures (Holm 2009). This raises the question, for example, of whether there are moral obligations to support states that impose travel restrictions during public health emergencies order to protect those outside the affected regions, as has been the case for COVID-19 variants and the Ebola epidemic. And if so, what are the expectations and arguments for such obligations

In the proposed study, we seek to understand and explore how two principles, solidarity and reciprocity, are conceptualized in public health emergencies of international concern (PHEIC). This is a first step towards building an effective narrative of solidarity able to mobilise domestic and international action. Our analysis will focus on two recent PHEIC, Ebola and COVID-19.

Project team

  • Nchangwi Syntia Munung University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • Jantina de Vries University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • Rachel Gur-Arie Berman Institute of Bioethics, Johns Hopkins University, USA
  • Euzebiusz Jamrozik Ethox Centre, University of Oxford, UK
  • Stephanie Johnson Ethox Centre, Wellcome Centre for Ethics & Humanities, University of Oxford, UK
  • Maru Mormina Ethox Centre, University of Oxford, UK

Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash