Responding to emergencies

Responding to emergencies: more than ‘first aid’

Assistant nurse Benjamin Beh in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh county, Liberia. Photo: Simon Rawles, Merlin

Has the humanitarian sector come of age? What lessons can we learn from past experience? What needs to be reformed so that we can better respond to people’s health needs in emergencies? Egbert Sondorp, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, introduces this new issue of Health Exchange and invites you to make your own contribution to the debate via this website. [Read more]

Haiti: reaching out to the most isolated people

Katia, Rehab technician, Handicap International, Haiti

Katia Eloi Cénat is a 32-year-old Haitian nurse. After the earthquake which struck Haiti on 12 January 2010, her right arm was amputated. Katia worked as a Psychologist’s Assistant for MSF, before joining Handicap International in October 2010, where she received on-the-job training as a Rehabilitation Technician. She speaks about her experiences here. [Read more]

Health partnerships in a post-conflict state: a responsive way of working

Student at Hargeisa Hospital looking at samples. Photo: Liba Taylor

In Somaliland, a health partnerships programme involving a small specialist NGO (THET) and King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (now part of an Academic Health Science Centre called Kings Health Partners) has supported the transition from immediate post-conflict health needs to a focus on health system strengthening. Emily Burn and Yassmin Mohamed from THET tell the story, and colleagues from health institutes and the Ministry of Health reflect on the partnership’s progress. [Read more]

Beyond the day after tomorrow: community health in Japan

Ryuki Kassai with a team next to the exclusion zone, Minami-Soma City. Photo: Member of Self Defense Forces (SDF)

When the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent aftershocks hit Japan in early 2011, health systems and staff were tested to the extreme in trying to meet people’s health needs. Ryuki Kassai, from the Department of Community and Family Medicine, Fukushima Medical University, tells the story of what happened and the lessons that he and other medical professionals learned from their experiences. [Read more]

Natural and social disasters: lessons learned by community programmes in Central America

Community climate change consultation in Chalatenango, El Salvador. Photo: Programa de Formación de Capacidades en Centro America

Maria Hamlin Zuniga, from the People’s Health Movement, reports on the devastating impact that poverty and poor infrastructure can have when disasters occur, both environmental and human made. She discusses the work of community-based health programmes in responding to health needs in these situations and what can be done better in future. [Read more]

Mental health and psychosocial care in emergencies: time for an overview?

Children in areas of political violence (Burundi) getting psychosocial support. Photo: Koen Wessing

The psychological and mental health needs of refugees and people in emergency situations have, in the past, been overlooked. Now recognised as important, a range of ‘psychosocial’ activities has developed, but are these interventions appropriate and effective? Willem van de Put, from HealthNet TPO, reports on the impact of these activities and whether it is time to revise interventions in this area. [Read more]

Urban health: a 21st Century crisis

Contradictions of globalisation.
Photo: Viviane Moos/CORBIS

Rapid urbanisation is leading to major health crises around the world. Many people living in urban slums are unable to access any primary health care services. In emergencies, this situation deteriorates and, with little or no health infrastructure, outbreaks of disease are to be expected. How can humanitarian actors deal with this? Ronak Patel and Fredrick Burkle from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, argue that one way is for humanitarian organisations to learn from existing grassroots responses to urban health.  [Read more]

Health system strengthening in fragile states: experiences from Liberia and DRC

A volunteer nurse reads a thermometer at the People’s United Community Clinic, Monrovia, Liberia.
Photo: Tugela Ridley/Merlin

Merlin believes it is important to adopt a long-term vision for health systems in fragile states from the earliest opportunity. Fiona Campbell, Head of Policy, shares Merlin’s experiences of working in different contexts to try to do this. She argues that NGO responses should aim to realise this vision and that funders should be more adaptable to support long-term capacity strengthening. [Read more]

How can we improve disaster response? Reforming the reforms

Internally Displaced Persons camp near to Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. Photo: Philip Stewart, Merlin

In 2005 reforms in the humanitarian sector attempted to improve global responses to disasters. What have these reforms achieved? How useful are they now? Ron Waldman addresses these questions in the light of recent humanitarian experiences in Pakistan and Haiti. He argues that three reforms have not worked as well as they were intended to and need to be revised urgently. [read more]

NGOs and the cluster approach: a worthwhile investment?

A health cluster meeting Photo: WHO Pakistan

The cluster approach to humanitarian disasters offers NGOs the opportunity for greater engagement and influence in humanitarian action. It also presents new practical and (for some NGOs) ethical challenges which each NGO must consider when deciding to participate. Linda Doull, Director of Health and Policy at Merlin, asks: is cluster engagement a worthwhile investment for NGOs? She reflects on Merlin’s experiences at global and country level in this area since 2005. She discusses the challenges faced and how NGOs need to face up to the criticisms aimed at them. [Read more]

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