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Epidemics, pandemics and humanitarian challenges: Lessons from a number of health crises

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For more than 20 years, Groupe URD has been evaluating humanitarian response and crisis management, which almost always has a ‘health’ component. In all of these contexts, from Afghanistan to Colombia, by way of the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean, we have observed how health systems react to crises, whether it be in terms of war and disaster medicine , regular public health systems , or the management of major health crises, such as cholera and Ebola . Our work on collapse scenarios, which recently figured in our review Humanitarian Aid on the Move , shows how seriously we should take such health crises5 due to the disastrous cross-border, or global impacts that they can have.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to bring together the lessons from our work on major health crises so that they can be shared.


We focused on our different research and evaluation projects including both in-depth literature reviews (see annexes) and field work (Haiti, Chad and Yemen for cholera; Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo for Ebola).

During these research and evaluation projects, dozens of practitioners were interviewed in the field and at the headquarters of the agencies involved (UN agencies, NGOs, donors, and the Health ministries and institutions in the countries concerned). The content of this lesson-sharing document is largely based on these interviews. Additional content is from a study for the Global WASH Cluster on providing WASH assistance in extreme situations.