A look at COVID-19-related ethics

A new study explores the ethical challenges posed by the pandemic for healthcare providers and medical researchers across the Kingdom.



The COVID-19 outbreak forced quarantines and many restrictions. To manage the crisis, protect vulnerable communities, and curb the exponential spread of the virus, regional and local governments across the globe enforced tough measures for disease control and prevention, including lockdowns, curfews, travel bans and mask mandates.

Some of these restrictions and policies raise ethical question related to personal freedoms, beneficence, autonomy and justice, and they also raised practical issues and contemplative questions regarding data sharing and tracking, privacy, and confidentiality, as well as challenges of preventing inequity, stigma, discrimination, and implementing the ethics of research practices. 

A study published this year by KAIMRC, explored how the Kingdom’s researchers and hospital workers feel about these challenges, which issues they prioritize and how they have dealt with them.                                                                                                                                                                                  

Between May and September 2020, the researchers interviewed 24 frontline healthcare providers along with COVID-19 researchers and experts from different backgrounds working in Riyadh, at the King Abdul Aziz Medical City, including King Abdullah Specialized Hospital, and also the King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences and KAIMRC. Ghiath Alahmad, bioethicist and scientist at KAIMRC, says that the scarcity of this type of research in the Arab world prompted him and his peers to create their own survey.

Alahmad’s research confirmed that even though countries rely on different health infrastructures and navigate different cultural norms, the ethical challenges facing doctors and healthcare workers in response to COVID-19 seem to be universal. 

“The people here share the same concerns, though there are some different points of view with regard to some issues, especially related to confidentiality, and using software to track people,” he explains. Alahmad adds that while some were vehemently against any compromise regarding sensitive health data, privacy, or confidentiality, others believe that public health interests should prevail. 

However, Alahmad notes that the scope of this study, as well as the data collected, remain limited. “Some very important issues have not been discussed yet, such as problems relating to the vaccination [process] itself, manufacturing the vaccine and distributing it, as well as the idea of forcing people to take the vaccine. But we are working on that,” says Alahmad. 

While this survey focused on people working in the treatment and management of COVID-19, Alahmad is also planning to survey patients and their families.


  1. Alahmad, G., et al. Ethical Challenges Related to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak: Interviews with Professionals from Saudi Arabia. Front. Med. (2021) | article

Read this next

The psychological impact of COVID-19

The pandemic has brought a newfound appreciation of the importance of mental health. Research from across the globe is now providing insights into its psychological toll.

Trial begins on antiviral drug for COVID-19

A clinical trial in Saudi Arabia will examine the efficacy of an existing antiviral in treating mild COVID-19

Genetic clues to better tackle SARS-CoV-2

Spike protein gene sequences could help control the novel coronavirus epidemic