Humanitarian Health Action

Working with partners in health emergencies

The global humanitarian community is dealing with emergencies of unprecedented scale. 130 million people need humanitarian assistance worldwide. No organization can do it alone.

The World Health Organization (WHO) operates in more than 40 countries dealing with humanitarian health emergencies of all kinds ranging from disease outbreaks to conflicts to natural disasters. In all instances, WHO relies on partners through networks, such as the Global Health Cluster, Standby Partners, Emergency Medical Teams and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network.

Global Health Cluster

Effective response to the world’s health crises would be impossible without the coordinated teamwork of the Global Health Cluster. More than 700 partners combine their technical and operational abilities to support the national health response in crisis-affected countries to ensure that people in need receive essential health care.

There are 23 Health Clusters currently active in various crisis-affected countries with WHO functioning as lead or co-lead agency in all. Worldwide, the Global Health Cluster aims to help some 69.7 million people.

WHO Standby Partnerships

In emergencies, extra personnel must quickly be in place to support WHO’s work. Through Standby Partners, WHO rapidly mobilizes qualified and experienced professionals to respond to the health consequences of acute and protracted emergencies and disease outbreaks.

Since 2013, WHO has collaborated with Standby Partner organizations to support both WHO and the Health Cluster’s work during an emergency. In 2015, these partnerships were critical in supporting WHO’s response to emergencies such as the Syrian regional crisis, the crisis in South Sudan and Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu.

Emergency Medical Teams

In cooperation with United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and with host-country health ministries, WHO helped to select and to guide the work of emergency medical teams providing clinical care in the wake of emergencies, including 28 teams in Vanuatu following Cyclone Pam (March 2015), 149 teams after the Nepal earthquake (April 2015) and 28 teams for the Ecuador earthquake (April 2016).

Global Outbreak Alert & Response Network

During public health emergencies the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) ensures that the right technical expertise and skills are on the ground where and when they are needed most. GOARN operates under WHO’s leadership, and is a multidisciplinary network of technical and operational resources from over 200 public health institutions, specialist public health networks, laboratories networks, UN organizations and international non-governmental organizations.

Since 2000, GOARN has deployed approximately 2500 health personnel in response to over 130 public health emergencies in 80 countries. For example, during the Ebola response, WHO supported the deployment of 1100 personnel from 50 GOARN partners.

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

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 access to 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. In 2015, WHO-supported mobile clinics operated in Iraq, Jordan (in aid of Syrian refugees), Syrian Arab Republic, Ukraine and Yemen, among others.

UN Central Emergency Response Fund

The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has become one of WHO’s most important contributors to emergency and humanitarian response operations. WHO transferred almost US$ 6 million of its CERF funding to 68 national and international non-governmental organizations in 18 countries in 2015.

For example, last year in Afghanistan, WHO transferred over US$ 300 000 to Handicap International to address urgent health needs following the attack on a hospital in Kunduz. In Syria, WHO transferred almost US$ 600 000 in CERF funds to 15 local non-governmental organizations to provide emergency healthcare to some of the country’s hardest-to-reach places. Meanwhile, in Central African Republic, US$ 200 000 was transferred to the French Red Cross to support internally displaced persons with emergency healthcare.