Pandemics, professionalism and the duty of care: Concerns from the coalface

S Afr Med J. 2020 May 14;110(6):450-452.


It is likely that the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic will affect a large part of the world's population and will last for several years. Many critical ethical issues have arisen in the healthcare context. While response from healthcare professionals to participating in the care of patients in the era of COVID-19 has generally been positive, there have also been disturbing experiences on the ground. The practice of medicine is a social contract with humanity. Challenges have arisen because the patient is both a victim and a vector of the coronavirus. All humans should have a natural instinct to care for those in need. Ethically and legally, healthcare professionals cannot be expected to assume a significant and unreasonable risk of harm. While fear is understandable, altruism and interest in serving the sick exemplify the value of solidarity. Social harms like stigmatisation and discrimination can occur. Concerns have been raised regarding protection of privacy and respect for rights of infected individuals. In the era of COVID-19, fear, misinformation and a detachment from one's calling put professionalism strongly to the test.

MeSH terms

  • Altruism
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / therapy*
  • Delivery of Health Care / ethics
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Health Personnel / ethics
  • Health Personnel / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics / ethics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / therapy*
  • Professionalism