Screening for infectious diseases of asylum seekers upon arrival: The necessity of the moral principle of reciprocity

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Background: With a large number of forcibly displaced people seeking safety, the EU is facing a challenge in maintaining solidarity. Europe has seen millions of asylum seekers crossing European borders, the largest number of asylum seekers since the second world war. Endemic diseases and often failing health systems in their countries of origin, and arduous conditions during transit, raise questions around how to meet the health needs of this vulnerable population on arrival in terms of screening, vaccination, and access to timely and appropriate statutory health services. This paper explores the potential role of the principle of reciprocity, defined as the disposition 'to return good in proportion to the good we receive, and to make reparations for the harm we have done', as a mid-level principle in infectious disease screening policies. Main text: More than half of the European countries implemented screening programmes for newly arrived asylum seekers. Screening may serve to avoid potential infectious disease risks in the receiving countries as well as help identify health needs of asylum seekers. But screening may infringe upon basic rights of those screened, thus creating an ethical dilemma. The use of the principle of reciprocity can contribute to the identification of potential improvements for current screening programmes and emphasizes the importance of certain rights into guidelines for screening. It may create a two way moral obligation, upon asylum seekers to actively participate in the programme, and upon authorities to reciprocate the asylum seekers' participation and the benefits for the control of public health. Conclusion: The authors argue that the reciprocity principle leads to a stronger ethical justification of screening programmes and help achieve a balance between justifiable rights claims of the host population and the asylum seekers. The principle deserves a further and more thorough exploration of its potential use in the field of screening, migration and infectious diseases.




Beeres, D. T., Cornish, D., Vonk, M., Ravensbergen, S. J., Maeckelberghe, E. L. M., Boele Van Hensbroek, P., & Stienstra, Y. (2018). Screening for infectious diseases of asylum seekers upon arrival: The necessity of the moral principle of reciprocity. BMC Medical Ethics, 19(1).

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