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Three Humanitarian Challenges for Africa in 2018

When a cholera epidemic threatened to overwhelm Somalia's health-care system last year, a coordinated response by local, regional, and international organizations contained the crisis and saved countless lives. Somalia and other African states facing natural or manmade disasters this year should seek to build on that success.

NAIROBI – In mid-2017, when a cholera outbreak in Somalia threatened to overwhelm local hospitals, health experts feared the worst. With crippling drought, malnutrition, and poverty already endemic, an outbreak of deadly diarrhea seemed destined to paralyze the fragile state. But, despite the dire predictions, institutional paralysis was avoided. Although hundreds died and many more became sick, the collective response managed by governments, NGOs, and local communities, including the national Red Crescent Societies supported by the Red Cross movement, contained the disease.

Somalia’s experience gives me great hope for Africa’s future. But it also serves as a reminder that local capacity is easily inundated during times of crisis. While some parts of Africa have become self-sufficient in terms of public health, others continue to lean heavily on global aid. For these areas, partnership is the best means of minimizing risks.

In particular, three key challenges this year are likely to pose the severest tests of Africa’s ability to manage humanitarian crises.