The World Health Organization (WHO), on March 14, 2020, declared coronavirus a global pandemic.

And since then, government officials have constantly updated citizens on new cases, always providing emergency measures and resources to battle the virus.

Covid-19 has claimed over 15,000 lives, placed over 300,000 at risk, and continues to ravage the globe.

Officials’ lips are, however, sealed on one matter – victims’ identities.

But social media is littered with posts of concerns, suggesting that concealing patients’ details will escalate the virulent virus, and fuels further paranoia.

Others argue coronavirus carries no inherent social or cultural stigma, and knowing the name, location, and mobility network of patients, can make a difference.

But medical experts insist on disclosing as much information as is necessary. Revealing too much, they warn, will jeopardize the war against the pandemic.

Exposing infected persons will only cause harm, raise anxieties, and get people unnecessarily frightened, medics say, even as they urge protection of public health.

Right to privacy

The right to a patient’s privacy and confidentiality is not just an ethical issue, but it is also a legal responsibility.

The obligation of confidentiality goes beyond undertaking not to divulge confidential information and includes securing patients’ records.

If there is a need to hold or share patients’ information, they should be informed about the kind of details doctors are holding about them, how and why it might be shared, and with whom it might be revealed.

It is critical to inform patients they have the right to withhold consent if you intend to use their personal information for purposes other than their immediate care.

A confidentiality clause in healthcare workers’ contracts binds them. They have a legal commitment to preserving professional confidence.

The Constitution guarantees citizens the right to privacy, including the right not to have the privacy of their communications infringed.

The Health Act makes it an offense to divulge information about the health service of users without their consent. The only permissible exceptions are when the law or a court order requires disclosure, or if non-disclosure would represent a serious threat to public health.

Eunice Odhiambo is the Executive Director of Ujamaa Center.