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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Dr Fiona McDonald

COFUND Senior Research Fellow at Van Mildert College, Durham University (April-June 2019)

Dr Fiona McDonald is a mid-career researcher who is nationally and internationally recognised for her research expertise on the governance of health systems from legal and ethical perspectives, as evidenced by her dual appointments in law in Australia and bioethics in Canada. She has authored over 40 publications, including two co-authored books, despite significant career interruptions. She is, and has been, an investigator or collaborator on over $3,000,000 (Australian dollars) in external research grant funding (see examples below), including international, competitive grants.

Facemask use in particulate air pollution events: ethical and legal analysis

Air pollution events, where large numbers of people are exposed to high levels of particulate matter (e.g., from volcanic eruptions and large-scale fires), are a significant public health challenge. One response is for agencies to provide and/or recommend the use of facemasks for the general public. The proposed novel, transdisciplinary research builds on existing, innovative work with Dr Horwell, researchers from Durham and external agencies, which has been used during the recent eruption of Agung, Indonesia. We explored, from an ethical perspective, whether agencies (government and non-governmental public health, civil protection and disaster response) should recommend/provide facemasks during particulate air pollution events, given the limited evidence about their efficacy for community use. During this Fellowship we will examine two further, pressing issues which have emerged out of the Agung experience: 1) how may agencies fairly and justly allocate facemasks in a disaster setting, given scarce resources, i.e. what groups should have priority in allocation, and pressure to protect children, for whom such masks are not designed? 2) what legal issues may arise as a consequence of a decision to provide/recommend facemasks? This research will further impact agency decision-making processes and will support the health and wellbeing of affected populations, globally.