Public Health and Human Rights: The International Reaction to the Ebola Crisis

6 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2021

See all articles by Dr Sara Golru

Dr Sara Golru

The University of Sydney, Faculty of Law

Date Written: August 2018


The international reaction to the Ebola crisis demonstrates the sheer extent to which human rights can be suspended when there is a public health emergency of international concern. The protection of public health in the case of infectious diseases and other ‘health security threats’ inevitably conflicts with the exercise of individual rights, such as the rights to freedom of movement, physical integrity and privacy. The popular portrayal of public health issues as ‘bioterrorism’ and threats to national security heightens the stigma and fear around these issues and undermines the fulfilment of human rights goals such as equality for all without any discrimination. The public health limitation is essential to ensure States are able to effectively implement preventative measures to avoid the spread of infectious diseases, such as Ebola, but they must not unduly constrain individual rights. The limitation has the potential to raise the profile of public health issues and increase the amount of resources directed towards combatting these issues. It is also arguable that the successful global containment of SARS in 2003 highlights how the public health qualification can allow the international community, including WHO, to act proactively for the common good. On the other hand, perceiving public health issues as national security threats arguably distorts public health priorities and leads to negative ramifications, especially in developing countries.

Funding Information: None to declare.

Declaration of Interests: None to declare.

Keywords: public health; health law; human rights law

Suggested Citation

Golru, Dr Sara, Public Health and Human Rights: The International Reaction to the Ebola Crisis (August 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Dr Sara Golru (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney, Faculty of Law ( email )

Faculty of Law Building, F10
Sydney, NSW

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