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Themes: Assistive & Accessible Technology, Climate & Crisis Resilience

Africa's new hub for Health Emergencies and why Inclusive Humanitarian Responses matter

Bernard wearing a grey suit with pink shirt and smiling

Bernard Chiira

Kenya Country Representative (GDIH CIC) and Director Innovate Now (AHI)

Written by Bernard Chiira, Director at GDI Hub's Innovate Now - Africa's First Assistive Tech Accelerator

Global Disability Innovation (GDI) Hub, the research and practice centre for disability innovation, and the WHO's collaboration partner for assistive technology, was among the organisations invited for the launch of the soon to be the first African-based WHO health emergencies logistics and response hub in Nairobi.

The Kenyan government has committed 30 acres of land and USD 5 million for the project, and becomes the first country in Africa to host what is envisioned to be a logistics command centre, a centre of excellence for health workforce training and a medical supplies hub for health emergencies in Africa.

According to WHO, Africa experiences more than 100 health emergencies per year, higher than any other region in the world. These include humanitarian disasters such as hunger crises and disease outbreaks like cholera, Ebola, meningitis, measles, yellow fever and others. In most cases, there is very little capacity to respond effectively to these health crises. Which was quite evident at the peak of the Covid19 pandemic where most African countries were the last to access vaccines, essential medicines, oxygen, and other urgent supplies such as personal protective equipment.

This collaboration and investment is a major acceleration towards health security on the continent, and highlights the importance of an inclusive health emergency responses. While the investment promises a 72-hour turnaround time for health emergencies anywhere in Africa, an important concern is the role of disability inclusion in humanitarian response. We know that access to Assistive Technology (AT) is often severely limited, In a recently published research paper GDI Hub’s Dr.Maria Kett's showcase how in "Bangladesh and Jordan, assistive technology provision in humanitarian settings is ad hoc, and largely related to the access, availability and focus of NGO-funded projects in camps or communities. There is an urgent and growing gap in AT access for people with functional limitations in these settings. Humanitarian crises place pressures on existing systems for healthcare provision and are therefore likely to constrain these systems for AT provision. There needs to be increased investment in, and focus on, strengthening healthcare systems to respond to the growing need for AT. There has been a lack of focus on AT and allied services such as rehabilitation, and resource-constrained countries have often prioritised other aspects with the healthcare systems".

Find out more about Dr. Maria Kett research paper on ‘Assistive Tech in two humanitarian contexts’. Maria is a co-founder at GDI Hub, associate director, and head of humanitarian and associate professor at University College London.

The new Nairobi WHO Health Emergencies Hub represents a significant investment and step towards disability inclusive humanitarian responses across Africa. We look forward to working alongside this important new resource to ensure that inclusion is central to humanitarian responses across the continent.

WHO Emergencies centre opening address by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO
President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General (right) of the WHO at the launch of the WHO Hub for Health Emergencies in Nairobi