What you need to know:
- Doctors are required to observe medical confidentiality, which is part of the Hippocratic Oath. They must ensure that a person’s health records are undisclosed.
- In most cases, the media can only reveal that so-and-so has contracted Covid-19 if the person or his family volunteers the information.
The medical profession — and by extension the media — don’t out people infected with HIV, syphilis, coronavirus or any other disease.
It is as simple as that. Naming no names is part of the Hippocratic Oath that doctors take. It’s also the law of our land, which prohibits invasion of privacy.
That’s why Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe has not been revealing the identities of people who’ve contracted the coronavirus.
Even President Uhuru Kenyatta couldn’t name the first person who has recovered from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
He announced “the good news” on Wednesday. None of the 31 people so far confirmed to be infected with Covid-19 has been named. It’s been absolute silence on their identities.
Some people say anonymising Covid-19 patients is aiding the spread of coronavirus.
If the patients were named, they argue, persons who came into contact with them would come out for testing quicker, thus breaking the chain of infection.
CHAIN OF INFECTION
Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula, in particular, has publicly called upon the government to name those who have contracted the coronavirus.
“If I was diagnosed positive, I would not wish my identity to be concealed, so that I can help those I associate with to come out and get diagnosed,” he said on March 18.
But to be really useful, the senator and others who want to remove the veil of secrecy must make a clean breast of it. They would have to disclose all — not just reveal their status.
They must tell the public where they’ve been and with whom, because those contacts could in turn have passed on the virus to others. So, to break the chain of infection, they must tell all, which could be embarrassing.
Doctors are required to observe medical confidentiality, which is part of the Hippocratic Oath. They must ensure that a person’s health records are undisclosed.
To release the names of anyone with Covid-19, would be violating medical ethics.
LAW OF PRIVACY
Besides, the fact that someone has Covid-19 doesn’t entitle the public to know his identity.
Mr Kagwe can, and has been able to, contact-trace without disclosing the patients’ names to the public. Revealing patients’ names can only be justified if it’s the only way of protecting public health.
The media have no obligation to follow the Hippocratic Oath. But they can’t name patients whose identities the doctors have put under seal.
Even if they can find out on their own the names of the patients, they must follow the law of privacy.
In most cases, the media can only reveal that so-and-so has contracted Covid-19 if the person or his family volunteers the information.
Such was the case in naming Prince Charles as having contracted the coronavirus.
Ditto for Cameroonian Afro-jazz legend Manu Dibango, who said on his Facebook page on March 18 that he had contracted the coronavirus (he died on March 24 in a French hospital).
Other African celebrities who have similarly been named as having contracted the coronavirus include Tanzanian rapper Hamis Mwinjuma, aka Mwana FA, and Congolese music star Aurélien Miatsonama, aka Aurlus Mabele.
Medical confidentiality, the principle of non-maleficence, and the right to privacy govern the reporting of the coronavirus.
“First, do no harm,” is the principle of non-maleficence. It’s more important not to harm your patient than to do them good, says the Hippocratic Oath.
For doctors, the primary consideration is that it’s more important not to harm your patient than to do them good.
Outing people who have contracted a disease could lead to harmful stigmatisation, discrimination and violation of their right to privacy.
For doctors, this is a no-no. Doctors swear, while taking the Hippocratic Oath, that they will respect the privacy of their patients, “for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know”.
Journalists follow the law of privacy and codes of conduct.
The Constitution and Data Protection Act, among other laws, protect the right to privacy. Mr Kagwe, in his contact-tracing, is legally bound not to violate the law.
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