Why is this important?
Over 300 million people each year are in need of humanitarian health assistance due to natural disasters and conflicts.
The main causes of excess deaths, diseases and disabilities during emergencies are context-dependent. In low income/tropical contexts, some of the most important causes are: acute respiratory diseases, diarrhoea, maternal and neonatal conditions, malaria, tuberculosis, injury (including sexual and gender-based violence), under-nutrition and epidemic-prone diseases.
Additionally, in emergency settings in middle (and main urban centres in low) income countries, the lack of treatment for non-communicable diseases (e.g. asthma and epilepsy) is often another main contributing factor.
Direct effects of mass violence are at times the first causes of excess morbidity, mortality and disability. Crisis situations also often have a significant impact on mental health and psychosocial well-being, and while humanitarian responses in health and other sectors are improving in addressing this, more needs to be done.
The role of health assistance is becoming more and more central to humanitarian operations both because of the persistent weakness of national health systems in the disaster-affected countries and the need for an increasing range of health services. For example, the change of patterns of chronic diseases and the health risks associated to growing urban populations are bringing about new challenges which require new strategies and approaches.
How are we helping?
The European Commission provides around €200 million every year to support humanitarian health programmes. This amounts to up to 30% of global humanitarian health funding.
Recent examples of operations include providing direct assistance to containing the spread of the Ebola virus across West Africa, and running a vaccination campaign against polio in Ukraine. The European Commission's Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid department also provides free health care, treatment of severe and moderate malnutrition and access to safe water.
The Commission's humanitarian health funding is governed by the Consolidated Humanitarian Health Guidelines. This policy document helps improve coordination, create synergies and ensure coherence between the departments of the European Commission, EU Member States and other donors providing health assistance.
The Commission supports the Global Health Cluster – the main international forum for coordinating humanitarian health assistance, led by the World Health Organization (WHO).
To help mobilise medical and public health teams and equipment for sudden emergencies, the Commission together with the countries participating in the EU Civil Protection Mechanism have launched the European Medical Corps. Countries can offer their specialised health units in support of populations hit by disasters inside and outside the EU.