Over 300 million people each year are in need of humanitarian health assistance due to natural disasters and conflicts. With global trends such as climate change, a growing and ageing population, the increasing frequency and scale of natural disasters, and the persistency of conflicts, humanitarian health needs are growing. One of the future challenges to humanitarian assistance in the health sector is that vulnerable populations in disaster-prone countries tend to be increasingly marginalised. Furthermore, there are new patterns of disease emerging that require a specific and planned response.
Over the past decade the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) has allocated an average of around €200 million to support health programmes every year. This accounts for 20% - 30% of global humanitarian health funding. ECHO seeks to provide high quality assistance to those most in need.
The most common causes of death and disease in complex emergencies in poor tropical settings are: acute respiratory diseases, diarrhoea, maternal and neonatal conditions (mother and child), malaria, tuberculosis and injury sometimes combined with HIV and undernutrition. The lack of access to preventative and curative health services, the lack of nutritious food and the lack of clean and safe water are often the most important risk factors. These problems are particularly obvious in refugee situations and conflicts.
ECHO supports primary and secondary health care but also takes a wide reaching approach to reducing mortality. This is done for instance by providing free access to health care, immunization campaigns for children, treatment of severe and moderate malnutrition and provision of safe water amongst other actions. In order to provide an efficient and effective response to meet health care needs, a range of emergency interventions is required as well as close cooperation with development partners to build the resilience of the most vulnerable communities.