The IFRC and our 191 National Societies strive to reduce illness and death, improve health and maintain people’s dignity during emergencies. Our emergency health team works to improve the quality, reliability, predictability and flexibility of our health services around the world in preparation for emergencies.
About emergency health
Photo: IFRC/Maria Santto
Every year, disasters and emergencies affect the health and wellbeing of millions of people.
They can have immediate health consequences—for example when people are seriously injured by earthquakes, flooding and other hazards.
But longer-term public health crises may also arise in the aftermath of a disaster. This can happen when health services are damaged or depleted, when increased needs overwhelm existing health systems, or when initial health risks are poorly managed.
Disasters can also be health emergencies by their very nature—as is the case with epidemics and pandemics.
What we do
The IFRC is uniquely placed to mobilize the necessary resources, provide timely health care and save lives when disaster strikes.
We can count on our millions of community-based volunteers worldwide and on our technical expertise and specialized tools to act before, during and after health emergencies to meet people’s needs and build community resilience.
Our emergency health work focuses on supporting Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to:
- Prepare for and respond to the health consequences of disasters and crises, including epidemics and pandemics
- Build and maintain community-level capacity in effective prevention, detection and response to infectious disease outbreaks
- Respond to mental health and psychosocial needs during emergencies
During large-scale disasters that require international assistance, the IFRC, along with several partner National Societies, can immediately deploy health personnel and equipment to support the local response in disaster-affected countries.
Explore our emergency health work
Public health in emergencies
The IFRC delivers wide-ranging public health preparedness and response activities to prevent, detect and minimize the impact of potential public health emergencies.
Medical services in emergencies
Our medical services team provides high-quality technical support to National Societies on medical, nursing and paramedical issues during disasters, crises and health emergencies.
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World Disasters Report 2022
Emergency Response Units
In a large-scale emergency, or when a National Society’s capacity is stretched, the IFRC and several National Societies can deploy expert personnel and equipment to prevent, detect and respond to people’s health needs. These are called Emergency Response Units (ERUs) and we can deploy them to provide both clinical and public health response.
ERUs prevent and treat illnesses and improve health and dignity for communities affected by slow- and sudden-onset disasters or outbreaks. Working in support of government health systems, ERUs can:
- Coordinate health services between humanitarian agencies
- Provide overall strategic direction of the health response to an emergency
- Implement community- and clinic-based health interventions
- Provide critical, lifesaving health services to communities
Clinical ERU services include: emergency clinics (fixed and mobile); emergency hospitals; operating theatres; cholera treatment; and maternal and newborn health clinics (including midwives and obstetrics and gynaecology specialists).
Public health ERU services include: community-based surveillance to detect and report disease outbreaks; community case management of malnutrition and cholera; safe and dignified burials; and psychosocial support
Find out more about the global health services and other ERUs the IFRC can deploy in an emergency on IFRC GO.
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Global Health Security