The International Ethics Conference: an eye opener.

Author:Phuma, Ellemes
Position:Epilogue - Conference news


The Ethics Conference held at the University of Botswana was the first Medical Ethics Conference I have attended. The conference, which was themed Retrieving the Human Face of Science: Understanding Ethics and Integrity in Healthcare, Medicine and Research, took place at the University of Botswana Library Auditorium from 6-10th December 2009. It attracted an audience of professionals from different disciplines, as well as students from Environmental Science, Nursing, Medicine, and Social Work. As one of the students who attended the conference, I was offered an opportunity to learn more about ethics in the area of healthcare and research.

Conference Overview

The conference, which started with a pre-conference workshop in parallel sessions on 6th December, had delegates from different countries. Some individuals who were not directly related to healthcare, medicine and research, were also in attendance. Presentations and discussions during the two pre-conference sessions I attended provided an insight regarding the importance of following appropriate ethical procedures when developing proposals in healthcare research and clinical trials.

On the first day of the conference, it was so impressive to see Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu giving the opening keynote address. Archbishop Tutu is well known in Africa for his contribution to the fight against apartheid in South Africa and remains an important international figure due to his international involvement. In his address, Human Illness and the Experience of Vulnerability, he pointed out that human beings have emotions and psychological needs; when ill, they become vulnerable, requiring the caring hand of other human beings.

His presentation caused us, as healthcare providers, to reflect on our actions and interactions with consumers of healthcare services. I realized that in most cases we providers take a superior role over our patients, addressing them by the conditions they are suffering from rather than as individuals. We tend to forget that as "human beings, we are also vulnerable," and at some time in our lives will also need care and comfort from others. It was from this perspective that I discovered that, as a student in the healthcare profession, I have a duty to improve my perceptions and attitudes towards healthcare consumers and be counted among the most respectful health professionals who live and work for others.

The keynote by Archbishop Tutu was followed by a...

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