Innovations to transform humanitarian aid in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic


Categories: COVID-19, Health, Innovation

From locally manufacturing personal protective equipment, to countering misinformation and disinformation campaigns, Humanitarian Grand Challenge supported innovations are helping the world’s most vulnerable against COVID-19.


As COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, its impact is felt most in countries that are already in crisis due to conflicts. The coronavirus pandemic has compounded the existing and ongoing humanitarian needs of millions of people around the world.


Creating Hope in Conflict: a Humanitarian Grand Challenge’s supported innovators mobilized to ensure safe and effective humanitarian response to the growing global COVID-19 outbreak. From locally manufacturing personal protective equipment, to countering the harmful spread of misinformation and disinformation campaigns, Humanitarian Grand Challenge supported innovators are helping the world’s most vulnerable people against the coronavirus.


Here’s how:


Providing Personal Protective Equipment

The White Helmets | First PPE manufacturing in NorthWest Syria

As the COVID-19 pandemic advances, millions of Syrians, including healthcare professionals and humanitarian workers continue to live at risk without the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to adequately respond and treat those infected with the disease. Nearly ten years into the Syrian crisis, millions of vulnerable citizens continue to endure immense suffering, while the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates existing and ongoing humanitarian needs. 


To help over 4 million people in Northwest Syria the White Helmets offer the necessary response to the lack of PPE by locally manufacturing personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and citizens. The Nobel Peace Prize nominated organization, responsible for saving over 114,000 Syrian lives since 2015, will be the first organization to manufacture PPE for COVID-19 response in Syria. The country’s protracted conflict and humanitarian crisis have destroyed homes, hospitals and healthcare settings, leaving over 4 million people in NorthWest Syria living in precarious conditions that don’t allow for proper distancing, isolation, or hygiene measures – ideal conditions for the virus to spread. As the pandemic rages, it brings a new threat to displaced communities. The White Helmets’ ability to manufacture and distribute personal protective equipment inside Syria will not only protect those working in the overwhelmed health system, but reduce the spread of the virus among the most vulnerable.


Members of the White Helmets manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE) in Northwest Syria.

As COVID-19 spreads, it brings a new threat to communities living in Northwest Syria. The White Helmets’ ability to manufacture and distribute personal protective equipment inside Syria will protect those working int he overwhelmed health system and reduce the spread of the virus among communities. Photo: The White Helmets. 


Field Ready, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, and NeedsList | Providing highly detailed maps of conflict-affected areas to better provide access to key COVID-19 resources

With war and pandemic disrupting supply chains, it’s now more important than ever to reach people affected by humanitarian crises. 

Access to information is one of the most important things humanitarians need in an emergency. In order for them to make informed decisions and undertake operations (including distributing life-saving aid, medicines, healthcare supplies and food), they need to know how many people need assistance, where they are, how to reach them and what infrastructure and assets are available in those areas. Unfortunately, in remote and conflict-affected zones, that information is largely lacking.

Without that key information it’s hard to reach the people most in need of humanitarian assistance. Field Ready, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and NeedsList have partnered together to provide highly detailed maps of conflict-affected and rural areas, in order to better provide vulnerable people with access to key COVID-19 resources, including PPE, healthcare supplies and medicines.

Knowing where the needs are and who can supply them will help the project provide 100,000 frontline workers with infection-control items in four conflict-affected countries; Bangladesh, Iraq, Kenya and Uganda. Relying on tailored responses in each country and HOT’s open-source apps and tools for collaborative mapping and geospatial data collection, Field Ready will help link local manufacturers and groups to deliver the PPE using NeedsList. 


Countering Misinformation & Disinformation

Translators without Borders | Multilingual Communication to Address Misinformation

The world is facing an unprecedented crisis of information. With the COVID-19 pandemic raging, people in the hardest-to-reach places affected by conflict aren’t getting enough reliable, accurate and timely information that they can understand and use to stay safe from the virus.

Translators Without Borders (TWB) is building cutting edge language technology in marginalized languages – to better capture, understand, analyze, and disseminate information in a quick and accurate way. This will allow humanitarian aid workers to more accurately capture the information needs of the hardest to reach. The chatbot answers people’s questions about the COVID-19 pandemic by engaging them in real conversations in their own language. Their questions and discussions then inform programs and help organizations target messages to fight misinformation. Currently working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the chatbot speaks French, Congolese Swahili, and Lingala, with additional  countries and languages to be added in the coming months. This innovative solution that is used across a range of channels like WhatsApp and Messenger will work towards providing reliable and accurate COVID-19 information in a language and format vulnerable communities will understand – no matter what language they speak.

A Maiduguri woman sits on the ground, smiling at her phone.

Maiduguri woman with phone. Photo: Translators Without Borders


Murmurate | Countering harmful COVID-19 misinformation in humanitarian contexts

Murmurate tracks how misinformation spreads in communities via social media. Using Computer Vision and Natural Language Processing, Murmurate will map COVID-19 conversations online, identifying misinformation that delivers false and damaging public health statements. These insights will drive the production and distribution of COVID-19 related counter messaging that uses an established network of media organizations and channels including SMS, radio, news websites and television reaching a wide audience every month. They will continue to counter harmful misinformation in Nigeria and Syria.


Murmurate detects Deep Fake images such as this one generated from as well as simpler image manipulations

Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challenge is a partnership of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development office (FCDO), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, with support from Grand Challenges Canada. USAID, FCDO, and the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands have contributed USD $32.5 million for the Humanitarian Grand Challenge, which was launched in 2018 to enable local organizations, humanitarian agencies, and the private sector to work alongside affected communities to respond more nimbly to complex emergencies, address the unprecedented magnitude of suffering around the world, and empower people to create better lives for themselves. 


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