Health is a core sector of humanitarian assistance, and serves as a reliable measurement of the impact of the assistance. The European Commission aims to provide high-quality humanitarian health assistance to the most vulnerable people affected by crises, including emergency medical assistance, outbreak preparedness and response, vaccination, hygiene promotion, and screening for malnutrition. Health is strongly interconnected with other humanitarian sectors, such as water and sanitation, nutrition, and food.
The number of people in need of humanitarian health assistance is estimated to increase. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), by 2030, more than 80% of the world’s poorest will be living in fragile contexts. A record 70.8 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced due to violence, conflict and disasters in 2018. Emerging infectious diseases, such as Ebola, measles, and yellow fever are reappearing, while climate change, population growth, mass migration and microorganisms resistant to treatments are hampering universal health coverage.
Quick and context-specific response to health needs in emergencies and capacity building to prepare for future crises are essential to facilitate resilience.
The most frequent medical needs arise from acute respiratory diseases, diarrhoea, complications during pregnancy and delivery, injuries (including from sexual and gender-based violence), undernutrition, malaria, and other communicable diseases. People affected by crises are more in need of mental health and psychosocial support to cope with high distress and trauma.
Weakened or disrupted health systems that are unable to provide prevention and treatment for non-communicable diseases and basic health services aggravate the problem.
Prolonged conflicts have a devastating impact on healthcare provision, especially when health facilities and health workers come under attack such as with the ongoing Ebola outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri.
The European Commission provides around €200 million every year to support humanitarian health programmes. The Commission's humanitarian health funding is governed by its Consolidated Humanitarian Health Guidelines, which help ensure coherence between the departments of the Commission, EU Member States and other donors providing health assistance.
Recent examples funded by the Commission's Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department (ECHO) include:
In addition, EU humanitarian aid also ensures the treatment of severe and moderate malnutrition, and access to safe water. To mobilise medical and public health teams and equipment for rapid response to emergencies, the Commission and countries joining 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.
Under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, medical capacities are being developed as part of rescEU. This is a new EU reserve of capacities aimed to protect citizens from disasters and manage emerging risks, such as through emergency medical response. Currently, the EU is developing capacities for medical areal evacuation for highly infectious disease patients and disaster victims, emergency medical teams and a stockpiling reserve of medical equipment, vaccines and therapeutics.
The European Commission is also actively involved in the Global Health Cluster, which is the main international forum for coordinating humanitarian health assistance led by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Commission is strengthening the collaboration with the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) to inform policy direction and strategy to tackle health emergencies effectively.