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Problematising Medical Data in Humanitarian Response

Stellmach, D., Pinaud, M., Tudor, M. ORCID: 0000-0002-7361-9408 & Fast, L. (2023). Problematising Medical Data in Humanitarian Response. Journal of Humanitarian Affairs, 5(2), pp. 3-12. doi: 10.7227/jha.105


This paper assesses the influence of the humanitarian innovation agenda on the aid sector, particularly medical humanitarian actors’ increasing reliance on digital technologies. Pressure to innovate arises from the belief that technological advancements can save lives, leading to the exploration of new technologies in humanitarian contexts. However, the rapid, often uncritical, adoption of new technologies and data practices has raised ethical, political and institutional concerns. To this end, the paper surveys key debates and ethical challenges arising from the deployment of biometric and medical data technologies in humanitarian and disaster settings. To achieve this aim, it gathers issues into three major categories of enquiry: governance, power and control; justice and equity; and trust. These categories assist in conceptualising the moral and ethical tensions between technologies, data and actors in humanitarian spaces. The ongoing deployment of biometric and medical data technologies in humanitarian and disaster contexts raises significant ethical challenges that can only be addressed by practitioners and researchers together. The paper concludes with a call to jointly assess the broader implications of medical data innovations in humanitarianism, emphasising the need for further research and collaboration among different disciplines.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Open Access article published under the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence
Publisher Keywords: medical data; humanitarian data; data studies; humanitarian biometrics
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
J Political Science > JZ International relations
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
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