Humanitarian Health Action

Mobile clinics provide health care to people in some of the world’s worst crises

The World Health Organization (WHO) and its many partners regularly deploy diverse mobile clinics and medical teams to reach people cut off from access to health services. For many people these mobile clinics and teams may be their only source of health care.

Mobile clinics offer flexible and viable options for treating isolated and vulnerable groups. The demand for mobile units keeps rising. When coordinating crisis response, WHO has arranged for such wheel-based health care, and adjusted the details based on circumstances.

WHO may buy mobile clinics or supply them, or pay for partners to buy or supply them. For example, last year WHO provided 34 mobile clinics to Syrian health non-governmental organizations to serve populations in hard-to-reach areas. WHO-supported mobile clinics operate in Iraq, Jordan (in aid of Syrian refugees), Syrian Arab Republic, Ukraine and Yemen, among other countries.

Mobile medical clinic in Iraq provides much needed health care

Iraq mobile clinic
This mobile clinic, supported by WHO, operates in one of the Amriyat Al-Fallujah camps.
WHO Iraq

Amira, aged 5, from Ramadi City, Iraq, is one of the tens of thousands of refugees and migrants in need of health care. The arrival of a mobile primary health care clinic gave her a reason to smile.

“I was sick and I was afraid of what could happen to me. The mobile clinic staff provided me with a sense of protection. I now have the strength to help my family, think about my future and I can’t wait to go back to school,” she said.

The WHO-supported mobile clinic operates in one of the Amriyat Al-Fallujah camps for internally displaced persons. According to United Nations reports, approximately 3.3 million people are internally displaced in Iraq and would benefit from direct access to health care services. WHO has provided Iraq with 27 mobile medical clinics and 30 ambulances, and health personnel are being trained to ensure provision of quality health care. With more funding WHO hopes to expand its use of mobile clinics into other parts of Iraq.

Mobile clinics in Ukraine carried out nearly 200 000 patient consultations since 2015

Ukraine mobile health care
Halyna, 70, has heart disease and the services provided by the WHO mobile team is her only access to health care

People wait for a doctor’s consultation in front of an old building that functions as a primary health care facility in Synykha village, Ukraine. Halyna, 70, cries. She has heart disease, but it is almost impossible for her to visit a doctor.

“The clinic is 30 km away, the bus runs only once a day, but even in town there is no cardiologist to consult with,” Halyna said. “I cannot afford medicines. We have not received proper health care for more than two years since the conflict started. Without the support provided by the mobile team, I cannot imagine how I would survive.”

To address the needs of the population affected by the conflict in Ukraine and internally displaced persons, WHO has established mobile primary health care units in six regions in eastern Ukraine. The units are operated by Health Cluster partners, such as Ukrainian Red Cross and the Hippocrates Greek Medical Foundation.

“We supported WHO and its partners to provide mobile outreach clinics to the most isolated communities in the conflict affected areas of eastern Ukraine,” said Fergus Thomas, Humanitarian Advisor to the British Embassy to Ukraine. “The approach has proven to be very effective and has had huge buy in from the local health authorities.”

Mobile roll-out in Yemen broadens health-service coverage

Yemen mobile medical team
Health workers for a WHO-supported mobile medical team prepare to vaccinate children in San’aa, Yemen.
WHO Yemen

Since the beginning of the crisis in Yemen in March 2015, WHO has reached more than seven million people through the provision of medicines, medical supplies, mobile medical teams and mobile clinics.

As the conflict endures, WHO continues to negotiate access to blocked off areas for mobile medical teams to visit, and provide much needed medical supplies. For example, during a six-day outreach round, in September 2015, mobile medical teams reached 290 498 children with basic vaccinations. Despite the ongoing conflict, the effort covered more than 80% of the targeted infants in all 23 of Yemen’s governorates. An estimated 1982 mobile medical teams and 5964 health workers participated. WHO supported 691 mobile teams.

Support and funding for mobile clinics

WHO works with many different partners to support mobile clinics. In Ukraine, the noted mobile units are funded by the European Union Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), the United Kingdom Department for International Development, the United Nations Central Emergency Relief Fund, the governments of Canada, Estonia and Israel and Finland. In Iraq, funding partners for the noted mobile clinics include ECHO and the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance.

WHO will keep working with its partners to scale up mobile clinic outreach in different emergency settings to reach help more people who may have no other access to health care.