Humanitarian Health Action

Emergency Medical Teams

The WHO Emergency Medical Teams (EMT) Initiative assists organizations and member states to build capacity and strengthen health systems by coordinating the deployment of quality assured medical teams in emergencies. When a disaster strikes or an outbreak flares, the more rapid the response, the better the outcome. That is why the EMT Initiative places such a strong focus on helping every country develop its own teams, who can arrive where they are needed in the shortest time.

EMTs are an important part of the global health workforce and have a specific role. Any doctor, nurse or paramedic team coming from another country to practice healthcare in an emergency needs to come as a member of a team. That team must have training, quality, equipment and supplies so it can respond with success rather impose a burden on the national system. EMTs must strive for self-sufficiency, meet the minimum standards for EMTs, and a possess the quality of care that is appropriate for the context.


to preserve health, protect dignity and save lives.


to reduce the loss of lives and prevent disability in sudden-onset disasters and outbreaks through rapid deployment and coordination of quality-assured EMTs.

What is an Emergency Medical Team (EMT)?

  • EMTs are groups of health professionals (doctors, nurses, paramedics etc.) that treat patients affected by an emergency or disaster. They come from governments, charities (NGOs), militaries and international organizations such as the International Red Cross/Red Crescent movement. They work to comply with the classification and minimum standards set by WHO and its partners, and come trained and self-sufficient so as not to burden the national system.
  • Emergency medical teams have a long history of responding to sudden onset disasters (SOD) such as the Haiti earthquake, the Indian Ocean Tsunami and the floods in Pakistan.
  • EMTs historically have had a trauma and surgical focus, but Ebola has shown us their value in outbreak response and other forms of emergency.
  • The Ebola response was the largest deployment of EMTs for an outbreak (58 teams), which pales in comparison to the 151 teams deployed to respond to Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013 and the nearly 300 teams deployed to Haiti following the earthquake.
  • Requirements for emergency health response are broader than those required for sudden onset disasters and trauma. They must include the ability to care for diseases such as cholera, Shigella and Ebola, as well as teams to support populations affected by flood, conflict and protracted crises such as famine.

What is the Global EMT Registry?

WHO has developed a global verification system where EMTs can be classified and ready to be deployed to health emergencies. A global list of all EMTs that meet the WHO EMT minimum standards for deployment provides time-limited surge clinical capacity to the affected populations. It serves as a deployment and coordination mechanism for all partners who aim to provide clinical care in emergencies such as tsunami, earthquake, flood, and more recently, in large outbreaks, such as the West Africa Ebola outbreak. It allows a country affected by a disaster or other emergency to call on teams that have been classified and quality assured. WHO’s viewpoint is that international teams need be deployed only in the case of an emergency of overwhelming proportions.

What does the Global EMT initiative enable countries to do?

  • It enables countries to improve their own national capacity, which they are then able to use to assist other countries in emergencies.
  • It enables affected countries to accept and use EMTs in a timely, coordinated manner.
  • Host governments and affected populations can depend on EMTs from the list to arrive trained, equipped and capable of providing the intervention promised. Victims and their families can expect the clinical teams treating them to be of a safe minimum standard.
  • Each team has unique individuals with various skill sets. Identifying these differences and placing them into the field requires coordination and communication to ensure the correct gaps are filled. EMT staff help facilitate and coordinate this placement.


EMTs work under the guidelines of the WHO Classification and Minimum Standards for Foreign Medical Teams in sudden onset disasters guidance. These guidelines discuss the principles and core standards of how registered EMTs must function and declare their operational capabilities.