‘Don’t pay for public health with people’s lives’ – doctors tell Robert Abela

Updated with the new number of signatories to letter

More than 300 healthcare professional and students, including more than 180 doctors, have signed an open letter sent to Prime Minister Robert Abela, urging him to reconsider his stance on assisting lives in danger at sea after 15 migrants were reported dead following the government’s decision to close the country’s ports.

The letter, which was signed by prominent figures in the sector, such as Professor Albert Fenech, Professor Pierre Schembri-Wismayer and Professor Julian Mamo, says that allowing people to die by citing public health reasons was a contradiction in terms.

“We acknowledge that the current COVID-19 situation in Malta is serious. However, allowing people to die in the name of public health is contradictory and utterly nonsensical,” they said.

In the letter, the signatories expressed their shock that the Armed Forces of Malta were being prevented from rescuing any boats in distress within Malta’s Search and Rescue (SAR) zone. This move by the government raised the question on whether the COVID-19 response must come at the expense of human rights.

“The Hippocratic oath clearly states: I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm. In this situation, we must act to fulfil our obligations,” medical professionals reminded the prime minister.

The signatories referred to 15 people who have recently died at sea after being denied entry into Malta, while other boats have been pushed back into Libya – “an active war zone”. On Wednesday, 20 NGO said in a statement it was “a terrible day for Malta, human rights and our nation’s legacy”.

The letter was sent to Abela by over 250 medical professionals the same evening, questioned the government’s justification that Malta was not in a position to offer a safe place for these immigrants, “especially at a time of great challenges in the health sector, and law enforcement”.

The situation, the prime minister had said, called “for all local resources, including the Armed Forces, to be focused on the fight against the spread of the coronavirus”.

The healthcare professionals reminded Abela that in times of a pandemic, many otherwise normal actions come with risk. They referred to his decisions not to enforce a full public lockdown and to allow the hunting season to open as two examples of such risk.

“While rescuing people in distress at sea and allowing them to disembark in Malta is not totally risk-free, it does not justify violating human rights and there are steps that can be taken to mitigate risk,” they wrote.

They went on to say that they cannot abandon their moral and ethical responsibilities, and likewise, the State cannot abandon its positive obligation to protect the right to life.

They said if they allowed the government to pay for public health with people’s lives, then they would have failed in their obligations as citizens, healthcare workers, and as a nation.

In a comment accompanying his signature, Albert Fenech said: “Life before politics… as for health, we are perfectly capable of testing and isolation.”

The letter was also addressed to Superintendent for Public Health Charmaine Gauci, Health Minister Chris Fearne and Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri.

The initiative was supported by The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation. “We’re all covering our moves to prevent the spread of the virus. We shouldn’t be covering our eyes to ignore the spread of injustice,” the foundation said on the day marking two and a half years since the journalist was killed.

Over 50 new signatories to open letter on Thursday afternoon

On Thursday afternoon, more than 50 healthcare workers and students also signed the open letter, increasing the number of signatories to over 300 – of these, more than 180 are medical doctors.

You can read the updated letter sent to the prime minister here.


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