Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

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Health assistance in Central African Republic. Photo credit: OCHA/C.Illemassene

Why is this important?

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.

The most common causes of death and disease in complex emergencies in poor tropical settings are: acute respiratory diseases, diarrhoea, maternal and neonatal conditions, 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 severe in refugee situations and conflicts.

The role of health assistance is transitioning into a more central one due to the persistent weakness of health systems of many developing countries on the one hand, along with the demand for an increasing range of health services on the other.  For example, the change of disease patterns towards chronic non-communicable diseases, and the health risks associated to growing urban populations bring new challenges that need to be addressed with new strategies and approaches.

How are we helping?

The EU provides an annual average of €200 million, dedicated to support health programmes. This amounts to up to 30% of global humanitarian health funding. Recent examples include providing direct assistance to containing the spread of the Ebola virus across West Africa, and maintaining a vaccination campaign against polio inside Syria.

The European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) supports primary and secondary healthcare but also takes a wide reaching approach to reducing mortality. This includes providing free access to healthcare, immunisation 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 healthcare 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.

ECHO health funding is governed by the Consolidated Humanitarian Health Guidelines , adopted in 2013. This thematic policy document helps improve the coordination, create synergies and ensure coherence between ECHO, other departments of the European Commission, Member States and other donors providing health assistance.

Finally, ECHO supports the Global Health Cluster - the main international forum for coordinating humanitarian health, led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – both financially (through Enhanced Response Capacity) and with its in-house expertise.

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