1. Home
  2. Africa

Roundup: How infectious diseases complicate emergency response

Outbreaks are adding new wrinkles to crises and testing assumptions on how to respond.

Illustration of disease vectors.
Illustration of disease vectors. (TNH)

The rapid spread of the new coronavirus in China and beyond has grabbed the world’s attention over the last month. But the threat of infectious diseases is already on the humanitarian radar as a growing source of crises.

The UN’s World Health Organisation this week launched a $675 million response plan for the coronavirus. Most of the money is earmarked to help countries with weaker health systems prepare.

“My biggest worry is that there are countries today who do not have the systems in place to detect people who have contracted with the virus,” the WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in launching the plan in Geneva.

The global aid sector is still figuring out how to respond to the emerging disease – for now called the “2019‐nCoV acute respiratory disease”. But other infectious diseases continue to complicate existing humanitarian emergencies.

From Ebola and cholera to measles and polio, diseases are adding new complexities to crises and testing assumptions on how to respond.

The UN says infectious diseases are among a few key trends – along with climate change and debt in low-income countries – that could drive humanitarian needs in the coming years. The risk posed by infectious diseases is also one of the 10 crises and trends we’re watching this year.

Here’s a selection of stories exploring emerging issues in humanitarian disease response:

Ready or not? Africa and the coronavirus

Africa has so far been spared the spread of the coronavirus – the race is now on to provide kits to identify the microbe should it make landfall.

How Ukraine is grappling with a rapid uptick in measles

A surge in vaccine-preventable measles across the globe is fuelled in part by misinformation, poor health services, and conflict. Ukraine’s outbreak has all three.

Afghanistan battles polio: Rumours, mistrust, and negotiating with the Taliban

The front line of Afghanistan’s fragile war on polio runs through militant-controlled territory. Can health responders broker consistent access?

How Congo’s ‘militarised’ Ebola response has fuelled community resistance

Government security forces are meant to help the Ebola response, but residents say heavy-handed actions are making the situation worse.

First Person: Mosul made me see the threat of antibiotic-resistant infections

Complicated care, isolation, surgeries, and the mental toll: what a week in Mosul taught an epidemiologist about the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant infections.

What is humanitarian deconfliction?

Attacks on health workers are also a threat to containing outbreaks, especially if they destroy or shut down clinics and vital services. Here’s how aid agencies try to avoid getting bombed in Yemen and Syria.

Share this article

Right now, we’re working with contributors on the ground in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries to tell the stories of people enduring and responding to a rapidly evolving humanitarian crisis.

We’re documenting the threats to humanitarian response in the country and providing a platform for those bearing the brunt of the invasion. Our goal is to bring you the truth at a time when disinformation is rampant. 

But while much of the world’s focus may be on Ukraine, we are continuing our reporting on myriad other humanitarian disasters – from Haiti to the Sahel to Afghanistan to Myanmar. We’ve been covering humanitarian crises for more than 25 years, and our journalism has always been free, accessible for all, and – most importantly – balanced. 

You can support our journalism from just $5 a month, and every contribution will go towards our mission. 

Support The New Humanitarian today.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.

Join