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Fighting Novel Diseases amidst Humanitarian Crises

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is facing two crises: a potentially explosive Ebola epidemic and a major insurgency. But they are not wholly distinct from each other: the first is intertwined with the second, and public mistrust and political violence add a dangerous dimension to the Ebola epidemic. The World Health Organization and other health emergency responders will increasingly find themselves fighting outbreaks in insecure, misgoverned or ungoverned zones, possibly experiencing active conflict. Yet the WHO has neither the mission nor the capabilities to navigate these security threats. We cannot expect that the usual public health strategy will succeed when health workers’ lives are directly imperiled and community resistance runs deep. Tackling health emergencies amidst complex humanitarian crises requires fresh thinking. Here, we offer a blueprint for fighting diseases in complex humanitarian emergencies. The building blocks of security and trust include high-level political support, street-level diplomacy, community engagement, enhanced funding, and protection of health professionals working in conflict or disaster zones.

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