Displaying items by tag: pandemic
THERE are only three days left in the year we want to so hurriedly get away from.
Truth be told, there is nothing wrong with 2020. It is we who have made it an "annus horribilis".
Never has a year been sent to humans as a test on such a global scale before. In every nation and territory around the world, men failed the year.
Yet, like humans often do, we blame 2020 for all our misdeeds. The year 2021 will be no different if only the year changes and not our errant behaviours.
Mankind's misdeeds are aplenty, but let's consider just three. Firstly, the misdeed that led to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, to jump species.
From what is known thus far, the coronavirus may have jumped to the first human host in Wuhan in China from bats or pangolins through an intermediary animal host, a civet cat.
The coronavirus was said to have been found in a wet market in Wuhan. To be fair, the evidence in what has come to be called the Wuhan who dunnit isn't conclusive, but what is incontestable is that the SARS-CoV-2 virus came from an animal host.
How do the animals get so close to us? This happens in two ways. First, some of us bring wildlife, hosts of zoonotic diseases, to our dining tables.
This is like handing over the key to the door of our human cells to the coronavirus. This must stop. So must our encroachment on the habitats of our wildlife in the name of development.
Environmentalists and medical scientists have long warned of the danger of zoonosis, the process by which the virus makes the leap from animals to humans, that is being hastened by our relentless encroachment on wildlife habitats.
An article in the North Carolina State University's website quotes Dr Roland Kays, a Research Professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, as saying that six out of 10 infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic.
The main culprit? Illegal wildlife wet markets. Some of the worst diseases have emerged from there, says Kays.
Puzzlingly, last December wasn't the first time a coronavirus made such a leap. Even before the first SARS-CoV made its appearance in 2002 in Guangdong in China, there have been a handful, according to The Economist. Secondly, is our mistreatment of planet Earth.
As the years stack up, so does the waste on planet Earth. The Washington Post, quoting World Bank researchers, says the world produces 3.5 million tons of solid waste a day, 10 times the amount a century ago.
If we do nothing now, the figure will grow to 11 million tons a day. The Earth is drowning in garbage and so are we. It needn't be so.
If the National Geographic magazine is right, between 75 and 80 per cent of all household trash is organic matter and can be composted into soil.
Such lifestyle changes are a must if we want to save the planet and the people on it. Finally, is our misdeeds against our fellow men.
"Othering" didn't begin with former United States president George W. Bush. Neither did it end with him.
Sadly, racism isn't just an American problem. It is an European and Asian mess as well. Worryingly, in some countries, "othering" is being done on the pretext of national security.
Annus mirabilis is not made thus. For the year to be good, humankind must first be good.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Monday 28 December 2020
OTHER than public health concerns about safety, efficacy and distribution mechanisms, vaccination also instigates complex socio-religious controversies. This not only involves different perspectives regarding the legal status of the biological products used in vaccines, but, more importantly, how different races and religious groups view each other when making demands about the specifications of such products.
While some Muslims feel that it is their right to demand halal vaccines, for others, non-Muslims among them, such demand is unnecessary as the main focus of vaccination is safety and efficacy. Issues regarding the halal status of newly developed Covid-19 vaccines arose after an announcement by Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who said such vaccines would be available in the first quarter of next year.
Netizens' concerns regarding the halal status of these vaccines have received myriad responses from the authorities, including Pahang mufti Abdul Rahman Osman, who said the halal status of the vaccine is important to ensure peace of mind among Muslims.
In consequence, on Oct 7, Halal Development Corporation (HDC) chief executive officer Hairol Ariffein Sahari, said standards to certify halal vaccines, including for Covid-19, will be available by early next year. It was reported that HDC was working closely with the Malaysian Standards Department and the Malaysian Islamic Development Department to develop the standards, while initiating research and development measures with several companies produce these vaccines.
A Malaysian halal vaccine project is not new. It has been on the radar since 2014, when then international trade and industry minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed announced that by 2017, Malaysia would be the main producer of halal vaccines for meningitis, hepatitis and meningococcal disease. In December 2017, Pharmaniaga, a Malaysian-based pharma-ceutical company, engaged in a collaboration with a Delhi-based vaccine manufacturer to start producing halal vaccines by 2022.
Society has the right to be well-informed about what constitutes a halal vaccine. In a HDC report, titled Global Market Potential for Halal Vaccines, a halal vaccine was described as something that does not contain any part or product of an animal that is either non-halal or not slaughtered according to syariah requirements.
Therefore, some have proposed that halal vaccine production may incorporate plant-based mediums, as well as plant-based enzymes. Over the entire production line, however, manufacturing facilities, packaging, storage, as well as transportation mechanisms must be exclusively used for halal biological products. Moreover, sufficient measures to prevent vaccine contamination along its production stages must be duly observed by manufacturers.
An issue that might arise with the advent of new halal vaccines is the legal status of existing vaccines not yet certified halal. Generally, by referring to the arguments presented in Islamic legal verdicts (fatwa), locally and globally, it is clear that vaccines that may not be certified as halal will still be permissible (mubahḥ) on the basis of dire necessity (ḍdarurah).
This is because vaccines, like any other medicine, are permissible according to Islam, as long as they do not contain any prohibited elements specified in the Quran or any other form of filthy (najasah) ingredient. Therefore, in the event that no alternative is available, to prevent fatal communicable diseases, existing vaccines are acceptable for Muslims.
From the manufacturing and distribution perspectives, achieving herd immunity in society requires more than one type of vaccine. John Shiver, the senior vice-president of Global Vaccine Research and Development at Sanofi, a leading pharmaceutical company, argues that, in resolving the Covid-19 pandemic, no single company or product will be able to provide the overall solution.
Therefore, Covid-19 halal vaccines should be seen as part and parcel of a global endeavour. The effectiveness of the vaccines is contingent on their distribution among the right people at the right time; coverage is key to developing herd immunity. Concerted efforts across religious, social, geographical, and politico-economic divides are important if we are to return to normality.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Tuesday 01 December 2020
The Covid-19 pandemic came to us as a surprise. What started as a domestic outbreak of a flu virus has now escalated into a global crisis of health, economy and socio-politics.
It has not since been a year when the first case was reported in Wuhan, China, but it seems that our life before the pandemic has become so distant.
The "new normal" has brought another problem — moral dilemma. In confronting a crisis of this magnitude, it is nearly impossible to live up to all of our moral convictions and beliefs. We are always confronted with contradicting choices.
Choosing one will lead to the abandoning of the other. Take for example the healthcare services in which our medical practitioners have to leave behind their long-held practice in clinical ethics in favour of public health ethics that are better suited with the global pandemic situation.
The goal of public health ethics is to protect the collective interest of society and prioritise the need of the many over an individual patient. Therefore, decisions such as rationing medical resources and postponing nonessential procedures will be made based upon calculated, strategic, and utilitarian choices to accomplish this goal.
But, it is not without a cost. They are carried out at the expense of established clinical ethics focusing on the individual doctor relationship, which promises the best medical treatment and resource allocation based on the patient's best individual interests, regardless of the situation.
Another example is the case of developing a vaccine. While it is unmistakable that the only way out is to have a vaccine, enormous pressure may lead to cutting corners and hastening its production, resulting in unsafe vaccine with hidden risks.
On the other hand, adhering and following conventional testing procedures will take years, with the risk of sacrificing millions more. The same goes for the economy, raising the dilemma between "lives" and " livelihoods".
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the government to introduce movement control orders, quarantine, and border closing to contain the spread of the virus. While they were undoubtedly taken in good faith to protect lives, they are causing negative economic repercussions.
Last but not least, the Covid-19 crisis also calls into question some important fundamental values that we hold dearly.
Political and constitutional values such as human rights, liberties, and respect for privacy are at risk to be traded off with national security and effective containment actions.
This happens as this pandemic is perceived as a precarious threat to our national security that justifies the government's security measures in the form of closing national borders, cracking down on illegal immigrants, restricting movement, and public surveillance.
These actions, while arguably necessary to some extent, may open the floodgates to xenophobia, far-right movement, restriction of freedom, and privacy concerns.
Hence, all of these conflicts and tensions in our "new normal" life can turn into moral distress. However, Islam provides us with moral and legal guidance.
This guidance, care and respect for others, and the prevention of harm to them can provide us with important inputs and guidelines in managing this moral dilemma.
First, Islamic ethics, with the maqasid al-shariah at its core, teaches us to give preference to the higher objectives and spirits behind the law over its literal and technical senses.
Thus, in the event of a contradiction between our current practices in managing this pandemic with the spirit of Islam — such as the preservation of religion, life, intellect, progeny and property — such practices will have to be amended accordingly.
Second, Islamic ethics offer a sophisticated multi-dimensional structure of priorities, ranging from the highest level of necessities (daruriyyat) to needs (hajiyyat) an d then luxuries (tahsiniyyat).
It will then simulate the various situations in which these values conflict with each other, and then provide resolutions and principles on which values have to be prioritised (fiqh al-awlawiyyat).
Lastly, Islamic ethics also limit the state's preventive actions. It is only allowed to interfere as much as needed and should not take advantage of the situation to suppress individual freedom and liberty.
To conclude, although our struggle with Covid-19 is far from over and the proposed solutions here are by no means conclusive, this deliberation offers a departure point towards a more meaningful discussion on the role of ethics in post-pandemic crisis resolution.
Published in: New Straits TIme, Friday 30 October 2020