Don't pay for public health with people's lives

16 April 2020

Artwork kindly provided by Ed Dingli.

Over 500 healthcare professionals and students in healthcare, including more than 250 medical doctors, have signed an open letter calling for Malta’s Prime Minister to reconsider his stance on assisting lives in danger at sea. The letter acknowledges that the COVID-19 situation is serious, but points out that allowing people to die in the name of public health is contradictory.

In a comment accompanying his signature, Professor Albert Fenech said: “Life before politics… as for health, we are perfectly capable of testing and isolation.” In the letter, the signatories say that they cannot abandon their moral and ethical responsibilities and call on the state to likewise not abandon its positive obligation to protect lives.

They acknowledge that rescue and disembarkation are not totally risk-free, and call for steps to be taken to mitigate the risks rather than violate the human rights of people in distress at sea: “If we allow the government to pay for public health with people’s lives, we will have failed in our obligations as citizens, as healthcare workers, and as a nation.”

This is a doctor-and-student-led initiative 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 letter is constantly being updated with new signatories.

Statements from signees

Professor Pierre Schembri Wismayer sent the following comment to the doctors leading this initiative:


With fewer hotel guests, there is space where immigrants may be housed - under supervision, if necessary. They can easily be tested while staying there in quarantine, and can contribute to kickstarting the economy in the future, possibly even before borders open again.

Most importantly, however, we should remember that immigrants are people like us who need help in times of trouble, just as we Maltese were during World War 2. We remember the Ohio and the Santa Maria convoy. Without the help and support of others, we would have perished.

Let us remember our human duty to help and save others too, emulating our ancestors’ exemplary behaviour when Saint Paul was shipwrecked here years ago.

Professor Albert Fenech said:

Life before politics… as for health, we are perfectly capable of testing and isolation.