CBHFA in emergencies

With the vision of supporting communities and beneficiaries in building resilience, Red Cross Red Crescent community health programme teams strive to address emergency health preparedness and response after a crisis. Around 95 per cent of lives saved after a disaster are by local people, despite the fact that in much of the world, these first responders have little or no access to life-saving information and technologies such as early warning systems and mobile phones. These 95 per cent rely heavily on community health volunteers to help lead immediate response efforts.

CBHFA or community health volunteers are among those who are the most familiar with the landscape in the communities they serve and thus form the critical link between emergency health teams and the affected communities.

Based on experience from emergency response operations, the IFRC appreciates the added value of using the CBHFA approach as a tool to promote health and prevent disease outbreaks in emergency situations, carry out first aid in situations of civil unrest and as a recovery tool after a disaster or crisis.

Preparedness is vital

Community health volunteers should be well-prepared to deal with emergencies, rapidly mobilise in emergency situations and provide immediate assistance to disaster affected populations.

Since local volunteers are at the core of CBHFA activities, they are the key to bridging long-term programming and emergency health response. Community health volunteers have been engaged in emergency response in informing assessments, making the community aware of health issues, providing basic first aid and distributing mosquito nets and hygiene kits. During emergencies, the health needs of a community shift and increase – with some technical considerations that are unique to an emergency, including epidemic response, clinical and surgical support and psychosocial support.

While these activities may involve additional inputs and resources such as technical health expertise in areas that would help minimise the rate of morbidity and mortality, the vehicle for providing services to and inputs from the community should be the CBHFA approach and community health volunteers. The tools employed through community health volunteers allow for the community to take part in the planning and/or response activities empowering communities to take charge of their own health.  This collaboration between community health and emergency health teams leads to appropriate recovery programmes once the initial threats of the disaster have passed.