How will we respond to humanitarian health needs in the future?

Summary of Week 3 of the FutureLearn course on Health in Humanitarian Crises (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

Week 3 considers changing needs and trends, and explores innovations in health for emergencies.

New and continuing challenges

The history of humanitarian in conflict began with the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars between 1793 and 1814. Humanitarian aid began formally in the 19th century, when state, religious, commercial and philanthropic actors became involved in famine and relief efforts. Since then, every large crisis has been crucial for developing parts of the humanitarian system, such as the Second Italian War of Independence (leading to the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross), first world war, Nigerian Civil War and so on.

Global trends in humanitarian crises include the rise of intrastate conflict, the increase in urban crises, responding in middle-income settings, the upward trend in natural disasters, and emerging infectious diseases. These pose different challenges in the way humanitarian actors respond.

Over the past century, there has been an epidemiological shift from infectious diseases to non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Other health burdens such as mental health and reproductive issues have begun to gain attention.

The future of humanitarianism

The Humanitarian Policy Group argues the the humanitarian system is facing a crisis of legitimacy, partly because it has been operating in the same way since the end of the Second World War. Therefore it is time for the humanitarian system to let go of: power and control; perverse incentives, and; unhelpful divisions.

Other stakeholders discussed included the private sector, civil society organisations and local responders. There is a need to build the capacity of individual humanitarians. In humanitarian response, parallel health systems should be avoided and countries’ development plans should be built upon. More attention is being paid to cash-based transfers while the needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been neglected.

Innovation and technology

It is essential to develop innovative processes, protocols and tools to adapt to this new reality. Humanitarian innovation is a means of adaptation and improvement through finding and scaling solutions to problems, in the form of products, processes or wider business models… these may include technology but is not reducible to it (OCHA).



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