Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

Unveiling Attention and Neglect in Humanitarian Action and Global Health

On behalf of Médecins Du Monde, the German Red Cross, the Berlin Chamber of Physicians and Médecins Sans Frontières, we invite you to this year’s Humanitarian Congress Berlin: ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Unveiling Attention and Neglect in Humanitarian Action and Global Health’.

We strived to make that event as accessible and inclusive as possible. The congress will have live captions in English in the Münzenbergsaal and translations into French and Spanish (for the online audience). For better screen readability, you could download the agenda here.

Welcome Note & Keynote Discussion

Keynote Speaker:
Ruona Meyer | Journalist, Manager of the Africa Initiative at Solutions Journalism Network
Isabel Schayani | Journalist, Commentator & Moderator at German public broadcaster WDR

Shaping the decade ahead: Interconnections of attention and humanitarian principles

This high-level dialogue delves into social, political, health and climate change concerns. It examines the uneven attention that crises receive, and considers whether humanitarian principles evolve from morality, conventions or operational needs. These explorations shed light on both humanitarian work and society. In light of the congress theme, the discussion highlights global responsibilities and the future of the humanitarian system.

From Ebola to Tuberculosis: Understanding deadly neglect in global health

This session aims to shed light on the critical issues of neglect and inadequate responses to long-known infectious diseases. While the reasons for the lack of access to life-saving vaccines, medicines, and tests for various diseases can vary regionally, there are common threads of neglect and inadequate access that span different infectious diseases. The panel will explore the different dimensions of structural neglect in Global Health and actionable measures to address the neglect. 

Neglected, forgotten, historic: What good do crises categorizations do?

This event will look at who holds authority over categorizations like “neglected crisis” or superlatives like “unprecedented crisis” and what good or harm they actually do. It deep-dives into the power and role of different actors in driving dominant narratives. It will also discuss the usefulness of such categorizations and narratives, and whether attention created that way actually translates into real support.

Time to Change: Climate change and the temporalities of the humanitarian sector 

With interdisciplinary perspectives this panel will both look at the humanitarian sector’s attention on immediate, sudden-onset contingencies requiring swift responses as well as at the climate crisis impacts spanning over decades. By applying a temporal lens, the past, present and future of humanitarianism will be looked at – including its concepts and tools and interconnectedness with global inequalities. Also, the need and benefits of new alliances and cross-learning opportunities with climate scientists and the climate movement will be reflected upon.

Ukraine: Perpetuating structural injustice in times of crises

While the humanitarian situation in Ukraine is in the spotlight, this close-up look at Ukraine will rather focus on the factual meaning of “vulnerability” as a defining humanitarian criterion, and the mechanisms around vulnerable and marginalized populations that often fall between the sectoral segments that the humanitarian system has set up. It will explore the ideas of humanitarians, researchers and affected people on what changes are needed to overcome structural injustices for neglected vulnerable populations and how additional disasters relate to these.

Colombia: Impact of migration, climate crises and internal conflict on health needs and services

Exploring healthcare provision advancements in a humanitarian crisis setting amid concurrent challenges from the realms of migration, climate crises and conflicts, this session takes the case study of Colombia to uncover public and financial attention pitfalls. Involved experts will look at how and why effective initiatives often lack sustainable recognition and funding and how that relates to public attention shifting to the benefit of downturn or catastrophe.

Welcome Note & Keynote Discussion

Keynote Speaker:
Tirana Hassan | Executive Director of Human Rights Watch
Sorcha O‘Callaghan | Director Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute

Fatal side effects: Historical gendering in medical science, practice and drugs

How the historical gendering of medicine prioritizes particular types of knowledge and creates barriers for critical and feminist research is the centerpiece of this session. The panel will discuss the medical framework and its impact on current gender inequalities by analyzing what role biological differences as well as socio-cultural power structures play(ed) in healthcare research and services and how specific groups are particularly neglected in the fields of medical education, drug development and healthcare.

The Rohingya: Neglected in plain sight for decades

The plight of the Rohingya people, with a crisis showing both a protracted nature as well as various spikes in violence, desperation and marginalization, in this session will serve as illustration for compassion fatigue and humanitarian neglect. Beyond analyzing the status quo, panelists will discuss and showcase why and how humanitarian actors look for new strategies to raise awareness and drive lasting solutions i.a. via creative advocacy, community engagement, and reframing narratives.

When the world moves on, local actors stay: How to face humanitarian challenges of forgotten crises

In a series of TedTalk-style presentations, local humanitarian actors from humanitarian contexts considered neglected (Lebanon, Niger, Chad) will highlight the damaging effects of the presently attention-driven humanitarian system and explain how they nevertheless continue to serve communities in need. Together with the audience, they will bring forward and reflect upon systemic solutions to the humanitarian attention spiral.

The digital dilemma: Balancing efficiency and ethics in humanitarian action

This panel delves into pivotal questions: who shapes tech norms, us or tech? Does society honour human dignity or see people as mere data? Digital tools do and will further boost humanitarian aid provision in terms of efficiency but equally so raise trust, exclusion and bias issues. It’s a double-edged sword for humanitarianism, promising progress and posing doubt. Efficiency meets ethics in this discourse.

South Sudan: Leaving no one behind in forgotten and underfinanced crises

This panel looks at how forgotten and underfinanced crises result in reduced efforts to reach those most at risk, for whom humanitarian action requires more specific targeting and attention to underlying risk factors. The panel will discuss how funding constraints impact the much-needed capacity development and technical support to ensure that no one is left behind. The panel will also explore opportunities to strengthen the capacity of local actors and persons with disabilities to be empowered actors of change and will apply an intersectional lens throughout.

Building support while ensuring dignity: How to professionalize humanitarian attention

This workshop session offers a distinctive blend of practical and theoretical perspectives to delve into the ethics of ensuring dignity in the use of media as an awareness raising tool in humanitarian action. In order to understand how visual media can serve as a tool for raising awareness in humanitarian efforts, practical issues, best practices and potential guidelines about who, when, and why one should use what medium will be explored.

Welcome Note & Keynote Speech


Feelgood narratives for harsh realities: The origins and consequences of oversimplification

With ever increasing, all pressing, interconnected crises and in absence of political will to solve crises, we are constantly targeted by diverse actors bargaining for our attention and money, both online and offline. This session will look at the implications and consequences of humanitarian actors using oversimplistic and corporate messaging for fundraising and attention to complex crises, crises that would actually require nuanced solutions and long-term support to achieve meaningful change.

Notorious ignorance: Anthropology and attention in the humanitarian sector

Humanitarian attention disparities, rooted in different priorities and implicit hierarchies, carry significant costs and risks. Understanding humanitarian practitioners’ and institutional donors’ shifts in attention, including whose voices are prioritized and why, especially in the context of local communities, is crucial. This panel explores these dynamics and their impact, drawing from anthropological critique to reshape humanitarianism’s future.

Social media, activism and advocacy: Advantages and limitations

Social media has undoubtedly become a central and indispensable tool for international NGOs, political and social movements and activists, all of whom are trying to achieve the main goal of drawing global attention to certain issues and causes. This panel therefore aims to discuss in depth the strengths and weaknesses of social media and online activism, drawing a comparison with more ‘traditional’ forms of activism, and finally exploring the question of advocacy on behalf of other communities through online means.

You will have the opportunity to contribute to critical discussions, explore innovative research and approaches and connect with like-minded individuals interested in the topic area. We are looking forward to welcome the following exhibitors:

Doctors of the World e.V.

Doctors without Borders e.V.

German Red Cross

Help – Hilfe zur Selbsthilfe

Handicap International e.V.

Network on Humanitarian Action

OXFAM Germany

Heidelberg Institute of Global Health

arche noVa – Initiative for People in Need e.V.

Caritas Germany

University College London: Institute for Global Health

Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe

Centre for Humanitarian Action e.V.

Akkon University of Applied Sciences for Human Sciences

Dråpen i Havet / Stagona

Center for International Peace Operations

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