To save lives and alleviate suffering in humanitarian emergencies, one of the top priorities is to maintain the health of the population, hence ensuring sufficient access to essential treatment and services. More than an absence of illness, health is defined by the World Health Organization as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being," which requires attention to the protection and dignity of the individual. The challenge in crisis situations is to deliver a proper range of services (and maintain existing ones), from preventative and primary care to outbreak/epidemic response to secondary/tertiary treatment. Health programming is inextricably linked to that of Nutrition, Food Security, WASH, Protection and Mental Health.

Emergency medical staff conducting a procedure in a tent

Photo: Melbourne the Photographer/AUSaid

Key actors

Formal coordinating platform for humanitarian health actors in all parts of the sector

Health Cluster Lead Agency and responsible for gathering and disseminating relevant information to health partners, enhancing their coordination, and promoting and advocating for the importance of humanitarian health action

Humanitarian organization specialized in providing medical assistance to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from healthcare

Humanitarian organization focused in particular on protection and assistance in armed conflict, including caring for the wounded and sick. Its "Health Care in Danger" project aims to ensure that access to health care is not denied through attacks or obstruction.

Key references

Standards specifying the minimum levels to be attained in humanitarian response regarding health provision, as well as key actions, indicators, and guidance notes for meeting them

Fact-sheets on health related topics, including key statistics, prevalence, causes, and challenges to (humanitarian) response

Overview of Health Cluster response areas, as well as check-lists for services provided at community level, mobile clinics, and health facilities

Information tools

Epidemiological information on cases and outbreaks of diseases under the International Health Regulations and on other communicable diseases of public health importance.

The latest disease outbreak announcements from WHO

Specialized resources

Framework assisting the decision-making about the delivery of vaccines to specific target populations during the acute phase of an emergency

Ten essential questions and answers for developing a humanitarian response to NCDs

Latest discussions