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The Center for Refugee and Disaster Relief


HELP Course:  Topics

Definitions and Responses

Practitioners must understand the fundamental areas of humanitarian assistance, including definitions of disasters, what makes public health in emergencies unique, and the major actors engaged in humanitarian assistance.

Lecture topics addressed in this module include:

  • Definitions of a disaster
  • Definitions of a complex humanitarian emergency
  • Who is a refugee
  • Who cares for refugees and internally displaced persons

Disaster Management

Effective disaster management encompasses a lifecycle of disaster preparedness, coordination of relief efforts, and health system management.

Lecture topics addressed in this module include:

  • How to prepare responses to emergencies
  • Expected hazards and risks
  • Vulnerable groups
  • Magnitude of risk to the population

Epidemiology and Assessments

Populations affected by emergencies have urgent public health needs. Identifying vulnerable populations and measuring their health status and needs are critical elements to mounting an effective response.

Lecture topics addressed in this module include:

  • Critical health indicators
  • Epidemiological methods
  • Surveys and sampling

Environmental Health

Epidemics are common in emergencies because the physical environmental health is frequently unhealthy. If appropriate public measures are put into place early on, outbreaks can be prevented.

Lecture topics addressed in this module include:

  • Water and sanitation
  • Refugee camps
  • Vector and pest control
  • Minimum standards

Food and Nutrition

In emergencies, food is often the greatest need; yet knowing what rations are appropriate, distributing them equitably, and preventing disruption to existing food systems are frequently difficult tasks.

Lecture topics addressed in this module include:

  • Food security and livelihoods
  • Malnutrition indicators
  • Assessments, surveillance, and monitoring of malnutrition
  • Feeding programs
  • Micronutrients
  • Minimum standards

Information and Surveillance 

The health status of populations affected by disasters must be monitored by a number of methods, and this surveillance will improve decision-making.

Lecture topics addressed in this module include:

  • Surveillance systems
  • Methods of mortality estimation
  • Humanitarian information systems
  • Geographic information systems

Mental Health

It is increasingly understood that war and natural disasters cause not only physical trauma, but they can also have a devastating impact on psychological well-being of the affected populations. Practitioners must be prepared to understand and address these health needs.

Lecture topics addressed in this module include:

  • Definitions of mental health globally
  • Mental disorders during humanitarian emergencies
  • Children and war
  • Reintegration of child soldiers

Communicable Diseases

Populations displaced in emergencies are often threatened by diseases, both pre-existing, as well as new disorders arising from a new or altered environment. It is critical to understand these threats to prevent and manage outbreaks in urban and camp settings.

Lecture topics addressed in this module include:

  • Major communicable diseases that are likely to develop among displaced populations, including malaria, cholera, measles, polio, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS
  • Causes and risk factors of communicable disease outbreaks
  • Preventing and managing communicable disease outbreaks
  • Epidemics after natural disasters

Reproductive Health

Refugees have reproductive health needs that differ from those of others, and some are at increased risk from HIV.

Lecture topics addressed in this module include:

  • Antenatal care, delivery and postnatal services
  • Family planning
  • Consequence of sexual violence
  • Prevention and treatment of STIs and HIV
  • Other issues such as female genital mutilation, post abortion care, and traditional practices

Humanitarian Ethics

Maintaining neutrality, humanity, impartiality, and independence, as well as assuring equity in access to services, are some of the ethical issues that emerge during emergencies.

Lecture topics addressed in this module include:

  • Guiding principles of humanitarian ethics
  • Roles and responsibilities of public health professionals in disasters
  • Ethical responsibilities of health professionals in respect to areas such as nuclear weapons, torture for national security, and hunger strikers

International Humanitarian Law

Humanitarian measures are guided by the Geneva Conventions, which protect civilians, non-combatants, and health workers during conflicts.

Lecture topics addressed in this module include:

  • Provisions of the Geneva Conventions
  • Major actors and intergovernmental bodies
  • Implementation and enforcement of humanitarian law
  • Rights and duties of health professionals

Human Rights and Human Security

When basic human rights are violated, human security and livelihood are often lost. Awareness and alertness on the part of health workers may prevent many abuses.

Lecture topics addressed in this module include:

  • Definitions of human rights and human security
  • Human rights frameworks and conventions


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