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Public Health Rep. 2009 Mar-Apr;124(2):295-303.

Resource allocation on the frontlines of public health preparedness and response: report of a summit on legal and ethical issues.

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Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health Preparedness, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe St., Room E7035, Baltimore, MD 21208, USA.



In the face of all-hazards preparedness challenges, local and state health department personnel have to date lacked a discrete set of legally and ethically informed public health principles to guide the distribution of scarce resources in crisis settings. To help address this gap, we convened a Summit of academic and practice experts to develop a set of principles for legally and ethically sound public health resource triage decision-making in emergencies.


The invitation-only Summit, held in Washington, D.C., on June 29, 2006, assembled 20 experts from a combination of academic institutions and nonacademic leadership, policy, and practice settings. The Summit featured a tabletop exercise designed to highlight resource scarcity challenges in a public health infectious disease emergency. This exercise served as a springboard for Summit participants' subsequent identification of 10 public health emergency resource allocation principles through an iterative process.


The final product of the Summit was a set of 10 principles to guide allocation decisions involving scarce resources in public health emergencies. The principles are grouped into three categories: obligations to community; balancing personal autonomy and community well-being/benefit; and good preparedness practice.


The 10 Summit-derived principles represent an attempt to link law, ethics, and real-world public health emergency resource allocation practices, and can serve as a useful starting framework to guide further systematic approaches and future research on addressing public health resource scarcity in an all-hazards context.

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