Having first emerged in high and upper-middle income countries (China, Europe, USA), the dominant response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been to try to ‘flatten the curve’ through social distancing, while buying time to develop vaccines and cures. Almost all affected countries in the global north have pursued this strategy, with only a few exceptions such as Sweden, which has refused to order social distancing. It is too early to tell if Sweden will pay a heavy price for its heterodox approach, just as it is too early to know the social and economic costs of social distancing edicts in the north. However, at a moment when the pandemic has begun to shift to the global south, it is appropriate to reflect on the trade-offs of the social distance-dominated mitigation model, as well as its applicability across all environments.

In a recent article, University of Johannesburg academics Alex Broadbent and Benjamin Smart argue that exporting the ‘one-size-fits-all’ social distancing model to African countries ‘will lead to malnutrition and starvation for millions of people’ and that children and especially infants will be the most at risk. Pursuing this argument, Broadbent and Smart provocatively ask: ‘Suppose you had the choice between two health policies, A and B. Policy A would result in the death of a lot of elderly people. Policy B would result in the death of a lot of children, especially infants. Which would you choose?’

In this context—regardless of whether in the global north or south—governments will have to make devastating choices about who to prioritise and how. Please join CHRGJ’s panel of public health, medical ethics, philosophy and epidemiologist experts for a discussion on the ‘The Ethics and Applicability of the Social Distancing model in the Global South,”


Professor Alex Broadbent, Director of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge; and Professor of Philosophy, University of Johannesburg (South Africa)


Professor Margaret Gyapong (BSc, MSc, PhD), Director, Institute of Health Research, University of Health and Allied Sciences (Ghana)


Dr. Catherine Kyobutungi (MBChB, MSc, PhD), Executive Director at the African Population and Health Research Center (Kenya)


Professor Alicia Yamin, Senior Advisor on Human Rights at Partners in Health; Senior Fellow at the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics at Harvard Law School; and Advisor at the Centre on Law and Social Transformation and the Bergen Center on Ethics and Priority Setting (United States)


Professor Jackie Dugard, Scholar in Residence at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, NYU School of Law; Associate Professor at the School of Law, University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

Join the Zoom webinar using this link.

Related Reading

The following readings are intended to inform and foster discussion. Views and opinions within do not necessarily reflect CHRGJ’s views.


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