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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
© European Union, 2022 (photographer: Rajiv Raman)

What is it?

Health is a core sector of humanitarian assistance and a reliable measurement of its impact.

During humanitarian crises, the capacities of healthcare and access to services may be reduced, and the growing morbidity and mortality risks may result in exacerbating health needs requiring external humanitarian assistance. This is notably to address the direct health impacts of violence (e.g. injuries, gender-based violence, trauma), as well as the indirect health impacts (e.g. increased risk of epidemic outbreaks, undernutrition, discontinuation of treatments).

The European Commission aims to provide high-quality humanitarian health assistance to the most vulnerable in fragile contexts by building as much as possible on pre-existing facilities, programmes, and systems. This includes emergency medical assistance, outbreak preparedness and response, sexual and reproductive healthcare, mental health and psychosocial support, strengthening healthcare systems and building local capacity.

Because health is determined by a variety of factors (social, economic, environmental…), increased morbidity and mortality rates and their underlying causes need to inform other sectors for the prioritisation of interventions, such as hygiene promotion, and screening for malnutrition. As such, health is interconnected and promoted for cross-sectorial action with other humanitarian sectors, such as water and sanitationnutritionfood assistance, protection and forced displacement.

© IMC Somalia, 2022. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

Why is this important?

Access to healthcare is a key component of the fundamental human right to health, yet around half of the world’s population (4.5 billion) still lacks access to essential healthcare (UNDP).

Record levels of global displacement and food insecurity, the increasing impact of climate change and extreme natural hazards, violence and conflict worldwide, and recurrent epidemic outbreaks predict that health needs will rise further, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable populations living in fragile settings, particularly women and children.

The most frequent medical needs arise from:

  • acute respiratory diseases,
  • waterborne diseases and diarrhoea,
  • complications during pregnancy and delivery, and sexually transmitted infections,
  • injuries (including from sexual and gender-based violence),
  • malnutrition-related cases,
  • vector-borne diseases, notably malaria and dengue fever,
  • other vaccine-preventable communicable diseases,
  • mental health conditions.

Disrupted health systems aggravate the problem: they often cannot provide prevention and treatment for non-communicable diseases, basic health services, and medical supplies. Prolonged conflicts also severely impact healthcare provision, mainly when health staff and facilities come under attack.

Subsectors of EU’s health aid

How are we helping?

The European Commission provides around €300 million annually to support humanitarian health programmes worldwide.

The EU’s humanitarian health funding is governed by its Consolidated Humanitarian Health Guidelines, which help ensure coherence between the departments of the European Commission, EU Member States, other donors, stakeholders and partners providing health assistance in the field.

Recent examples of humanitarian health interventions we fund are:

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To mobilise medical and public health teams and equipment for rapid response to emergencies, the European Commission and countries joining the EU Civil Protection Mechanism launched the European Medical Corps. Countries can offer specialised health units to support populations hit by disasters inside or outside the EU.

In addition, the European Humanitarian Response Capacity is a new set of operational tools designed to fill gaps in the humanitarian response to sudden-onset natural hazards and human-induced disasters. This includes providing expertise, mainly in the health and logistical sectors.

At European level, medical capacities (staff and resources) are developed and deployed as part of rescEU. This is the European reserve of capacities to protect citizens from disasters and manage emerging risks, such as medical emergencies and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear incidents.

Currently, rescEU offers aerial medical evacuation for highly infectious disease patients and disaster victims (MEDEVAC), emergency medical teams and a stockpiling reserve of medical equipment and therapeutics.

Collaboration is also ongoing with the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) and the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) to coordinate the support of threat detection and health emergency preparedness and response in the area of medical countermeasures, including the possible deployment of experts to emergency areas.

© European Union, 2022 (Photographer: Ramin Mazur)

Last updated: 07/04/2024

Facts & figures

50% of the world lacks access to healthcare (WHO)

Over 70% of epidemics occur in fragile, conflict-affected, and vulnerable settings

The annual EU humanitarian health funding is €300 million on average

The largest EU-funded humanitarian health funding interventions in 2023 were Yemen, Syria, Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Sudan.