What are the key health needs in a humanitarian crisis?

Summary of Week 1 of the FutureLearn course on Health in Humanitarian Crises (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

What are humanitarian crises?

There is no universally recognised definition for humanitarian crises, but the course defined a humanitarian crisis as ‘an event or series of events that represent a critical threat to the health, safety, security, or wellbeing of a community or other large group of people, usually over a wide area’.

Humanitarian crises can be man-made, natural or complex, where complex emergencies are typically conflict-related and ‘requires an international response that goes beyond the mandate or capacity of any single agency, and which has been assessed to require intensive and extensive political and management coordination’ (Inter-Agency Standing Committee).

The crises can impact all levels of society, from individuals and families to economic and structure components, with vast and far-reaching consequences.

Crises and health

Mortality is probably the most important indicator of health needs in a humanitarian crises, and of the effectiveness of health response. Other key health outcomes include non-communicable diseases, mental health, sexual and reproductive health, and nutrition.

Humanitarian crises can have a major effect on the infrastructure and human resources of healthcare systems. Healthcare systems can be viewed in terms of 6 building blocks: health services; health workforce; health information system; medical products and technologies; health financing, and; leadership and governance (World Health Organisation (WHO) Health Systems Framework).

Cross-cutting issues such as disability, being elderly and gender have an impact on every aspect of health because they are more vulnerable in a humanitarian crisis. And challenges that affect the delivery of healthcare include: health financing, policy and donor priorities; safety and security, and; logistics.

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