PUBLIC HEALTH AND LAW

Public participation key to success of virus containment measures - legal expert

State should adopt the least burdensome measure from those available.

In Summary

• Orinda says openness and accountability are essential to generating public trust and are likely to improve public health decision-making.

• The legal epidemiologist notes that without public trust and voluntary cooperation, the government will find it harder to achieve the goals intended.

Wajir Governor Mohamed Abdi (in white apron) with health workers at the isolation centre at the county referral hospital on April 12, 2020.
Wajir Governor Mohamed Abdi (in white apron) with health workers at the isolation centre at the county referral hospital on April 12, 2020.
Image: STEPHEN ASTARIKO

Public participation is key in determining the success of coronavirus intervention measures, a legal epidemiologist has said.

Eddy Orinda on Sunday called on the government to give the public an opportunity to participate in the formulation of public health policies aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 in the country.

According to the expert, where a statute (s) are likely to restrict personal rights and freedoms, it is important to put in place ethical principles.

 
 
 

Orinda said that openness and accountability are essential to generating public trust, and are likely to improve public health decision-making.

Orinda noted that without public trust and voluntary cooperation, the government will find it harder to achieve the goals intended.

On March 25, President Uhuru Kenyata put in place a curfew between 7 pm to 5 am; a move which was criticized for creating a clash of rights between the right to health and civil rights.

Legal epidemiologist Eddy Orinda
Legal epidemiologist Eddy Orinda
Image: MAGDALINE SAYA

The time has since been adjusted to between 9 pm to 4 am.

“The governments must strive to ensure that there is a reasonable fit between the coercive measures imposed on individuals, and the public health benefit that they seek to achieve,” Orinda said.

“The government should adopt the least burdensome measure from among the measures that are available and reasonably appropriate to mitigate the risks in question. Restrictions that are “gratuitously onerous or unfair” may “overstep ethical boundaries.”

In addition, Orinda noted that the specific measures adopted by the government must be appropriate to prevent or reduce the threat, adding that the state should monitor the effectiveness of public health interventions and ensure that they are based on sound science.

 
 
 

He said that coercive powers should be exercised on the basis of a demonstrable threat to public health.

Mandatory physical examination, treatment or isolation should require a reasonable suspicion that the person is contagious or could pose harm to others, he added.

“In particular, the interventions must be consistent with statistics as communicated by the Cabinet Secretary for Health.”

Public health laws are aimed at supporting the control of infectious diseases by playing preventive roles by improving access to medication, screening, education, counselling and other strategies that aim to minimize exposure to disease or reactive roles by supporting access to treatment and authorizing health departments and health care providers to limit contact with infectious individuals and to exercise emergency powers in response to disease outbreaks.

He noted that it is time for the government to act timely and decisively in mitigating the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has exposed the deficiencies of public health systems in many countries and Kenya is not an exception. Kenya was already grappling with various issues prior to the pandemic including but not limited to widespread poverty, weak public health systems, and high cost of living; which are bound to intensify,” he said.

To counter the effects of the pandemic, he has called on citizens to work harmoniously with the government and trust in the authority of the government to impose controls within legal parameters.

Legal epidemiology is the scientific study of law as a factor in the cause, distribution and prevention of disease and injury.

Laws and policies are essential to public health issues. In the wake of Covid-19, legal epidemiology informs how the law can be utilized as a tool for better health outcomes.

Orinda is a practice director at One & Associates law firm serving clients in East Africa, Ukraine and the surrounding areas.