COVID-19 confidentiality critical

SHARE   |   Wednesday, 06 May 2020   |   By Bakang Tiro
Lawyer Rantao and Dr Kwape Lawyer Rantao and Dr Kwape

Despite growing condemnation from the public against government over the secrecy in handling information relating to Covid 19 patients, human rights lawyer Tshiamo Rantao says confidentiality of patients needs to be protected, even though it has a huge public interest.

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The lawyer, who is also the convener of the Human Rights and Law Reform Committee of the Law Society of Botswana (LSB),  remarked during a televised media briefing last Wednesday. He opined that while there is a need to disclose personal information of positive patients of the disease, as it in public interest so as to protect the public their right to privacy is very important. “This is a difficult balancing exercise that government through ministry of health is embroiled in. It is a matter of Public Interest vs Patient Confidentiality hence not ease issue,” he charged.

Rantao elaborated that the disclosure of patient information can help government to be able to balance its efforts of tracing the virus but it could be also violating individual’s right to privacy. “In my opinion I think government could only succumb to pressure when the patient is the one who gives the consent that his or her personal information be divulged to third party, “he said.

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Consequently, he posits that state could not necessarily publish details of positive people but buttressed that urgency might be needed to reveal for public knowledge if situation worsens. Rantao buttressed that the notion by authorities of curbing potential public stigma to affected people in turn put blow on public interest and safety more so that cases escalates.

Government has recently taken tapped a novel approach of not divulging the demographic or geographic details of infected patients unlike it was doing earlier hence sparking condemnation. In the first place, the Minister of Health would announce the demographics of a patient plus his or her location but government stopped that noting it is guarding against risk of stigmatization.

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On Tuesday evening, a member of COVID-19 presidential task force announced a new case of COVID-19 but failed to give locality where case comes from only saying is a local transmission.

Also, a day later Director of Health Services Dr Malaki Tshipayagae reported three recoveries that their accurate figure also caused anxiety and he did not also reveal geographic locations.

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“We cannot still disclose the details of the recovered patients because we are considering the stigma that could arise due to sharing related details,” he buttressed during radio interviews.

Human rights & SOE

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 Furthermore, Rantao said human rights violations has not been cause for concern during the State of Public Emergency (SOE) that is anticipated to be effective for a period of six months.

“The fundamental rights provisions as contained in the Section 3 of constitution majority of them can be limited by the state for the purposes of public health before SOE .Lockdown is a reasonable limitation to fight the pandemic as endorsed by section 5 of constitution,” he said.

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He also noted amidst SOE and lockdown lot of conflicts or cases could be noticed will be Labour matters between the workers and their employees due to potential deferment or salary slices.

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“If an employee faces salary cut both parties should engage on SOE Covid-19 guidelines. SOE regulations are clear that business should ease operations instead of not paying employees in case the business is not doing well,’’ Rantao added saying disputes are also avoidable in SOE.



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