Tue | Dec 7, 2021

Ethics handbook for Caribbean policymakers and leaders – Part III

Published:Sunday | February 14, 2021 | 12:18 AM
Ethics Amidst Covid 19
Ethics Amidst Covid 19

In the third part of this special initiative, we reproduce a chapter from the ethics handbook highlighting the need for solidarity. This handbook, written by Professor R. Clive Landis, chair of the task force, and Dr Anna Kasafi Perkins, ethicist and member of the task force, is part of the attempt to provide accurate and reliable information in the spirit of partnership, particularly to decision-makers, who bear different ethical burdens than the ordinary citizen, especially in the responsibility to make rules and impose policies that affect the lives of entire nations and peoples. The hope is to encourage ethical commitment and action among such persons as well as the ordinary citizen, who will also find the handbook useful.


Part 4: “knowing me, knowing you ... there’s much that we must do” (Responsibility, Roles, Subsidiarity)

Individual citizens, civil society groups, business and professional groups, governments, etc., all have important roles to play in addressing the crisis. It is vital that these roles are clearly delineated so that a higher authority does not take on a role that can be best undertaken by a lower; the role of the individual should not be taken over by the society; what smaller societies can do, larger ones should not take over, that is the often-ignored principle of subsidiarity. Social bodies exist for the sake of individuals, not individuals for the sake of society. However, individuals have a role to play in contributing to the common good, that is, all the societal conditions that need to be in place for individuals and communities to live and flourish. As noted previously, social trust is an important lubricant; functioning institutions that are geared towards the care for the most vulnerable are another.

It is necessary, therefore, that groups and individuals recognise their specific areas of responsibility as well as the particular needs of those on whom their actions impact. Of course, membership in groups may overlap and raise issues of conflicting interests. These have to be treated with transparently and carefully. Responses need to be fast and agile and take account of lesson learned.

Some groups with distinct roles in a public health emergency are:

• Global Health and other multilateral organisations: UN, WHO, PAHO, CDC, ILO, WTO, which provide global leadership in strategic preparedness and humanitarian response; others such as the World Bank, The Caribbean Development Bank, the IMF and G20 collaborate on joint economic rescue packages, especially for most vulnerable nations.

• Regional health and other multinational organisations: CARICOM, ACS, CARPHA, CDEMA, UWI, which provide resources, delineate a ‘whole region’ approach and outline the research agenda, that leads to a more efficient use of resources and a rapid deployment response.

• Governments: national and local safeguard the rights and dignities of citizens through legislation/legal framework, policies such as closing borders, responsible surveillance, sharing information, crafting and publishing guidelines for allocation of scare resources, responsible and responsive reopening of economies, etc. Provide welfare for those in need without further exposing them to infection or treating them in a fashion that does not uphold their dignity. The importance of effective communication in their work cannot be overemphasised. In particular, truthful and trustworthy sharing of information, such as infection rates, deaths, treatment options, reasons for opening or closing borders, etc. need to be foremost.

• Scientific Community: local and regional members of this group undertake and promote relevant research; provide guidance in managing the pandemic based on the best research and data available; pool resources and share findings; promote a culture of open data sharing.

• Public Health bodies: manage the spread of infection; administer vaccines, when available; treat respectfully the citizens being served while safeguarding the health of public health providers.

• Border and Security Forces: protect the life, and safety and security of all citizens; safeguard borders and facilitate trade and admission of stranded overseas nationals in partnership with commercial carriers.

• Religious, NGOs and other civil society groups: undertake indispensable work of a humanitarian nature such as feeding and distributing supplies to maintain life; contributing to the spiritual and psychological health of the people; facilitating networks. The Church, a significant religious group in the region, “has a diagnostic role to play (identifying the ‘signs of the times’), a preventive role (creating an ‘immune system’ in a society in which the malignant viruses of fear, hatred, populism and nationalism are rife) and a convalescent role (overcoming the traumas of the past through forgiveness)” (Halík 2020).

• Legal Community: ensure that the legal framework of the nation and region supports the human rights and protection of the population.

• Private Sector & Manufacturing: contribute to economic growth and recovery strategies; commit to safety and welfare of employees; where possible, retool and repurpose in order to address critical local, regional and global demand.

• Medical personnel: treat and care for patients, prioritising the care of the most seriously ill; undertake clinical research and share findings; safeguard individual health and that of their families.

• Triage/Allocation Council: develop triage protocols and guidelines for resource allocation that take account of need.

• Individual citizens and members of communities: safeguard personal and family health and well-being; display solidarity through acts of neighbourliness; safeguard health and well-being of other members of society by:

• following basic hygiene rules with regular handwashing, social distancing, and social isolation;

• arranging videoconferences and calls rather than physical meetings;

• cancelling or postponing non-essential travel;

• working from home where possible;

• staying at home if among those groups that are most at risk;

• staying at home and seeking medical assistance when symptoms present;

• sharing information wisely;

• obeying the dictates of the Government, such as limiting numbers in gatherings, wearing masks, and curfew restrictions, etc.


Case: The Fun Kya Dun: Caribbean people are renowned for ignoring warnings of impending dangers like hurricanes, which devastate the region on a regular basis. The story of Hurricane Gilbert, which hit Jamaica thirty years ago, is a case in point. Part of the reason for this may well be our culture of enjoying ourselves partying. It may also be about “taking bad things make laugh”. It may well be, too, that lawful authority is dismissed as alarmist, inaccurate, oppressive. Governments have put strict measures like lockdown in place to prevent spread but people have defied these, leading to arrests and charges laid for holding so-called ‘COVID parties’.

The call to responsibility and self-management requires efforts to protect ourselves against the spread of the virus but also to protect others as well. This call to protect others particularly affects elderly family members who need special care and protection. Many young children and their grandparents have been forced apart in order to keep grandparents safe. Routines of intergeneration bonding have been interrupted. The creative use of smart devices and apps has helped maintain the bonds among separated generations. The assistance provided by younger members of the community in running errands for the elderly has been commendable. At the same time, there have been several super-spreading events and locales that have been identified as contributing significantly to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the region. In response, responsible and innovative ways of having fun now include online parties hosted by well-known DJs and dancehall artistes, which reach audiences across the globe, and contribute to the economic sustenance of Caribbean economies.

- Ethics Amidst COVID-19: A Brief Ethics Handbook for Caribbean Policymakers and Leaders. Published by Anna Kasafi Perkins and R. Clive Landis at Smashwords. Copyright 2020 Anna Kasafi Perkins and R. Clive Landis

The handbook can be downloaded at:


Link to COVID-19 Taskforce website – https://www.uwi.edu/covid19/