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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 and types of disasters
  • Definitions of a complex humanitarian emergency
  • Who is a refugee
  • Who cares for refugees and internally displaced persons
  • Current numbers and locations of disaster-affected populations

Disaster Management

Effective disaster management encompasses a cycle of disaster preparedness, alert, response 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
  • Estimating risks from hazards and vulnerabilities
  • Conducting assessments
  • Using a problem solving cycle to plan relief and assistance activities
  • Case study for decision making

Environmental Health

The physical environment following disasters is often a unhealthy environment. This may involve populations in rural and urban areas and often in vulnerable or difficult circumstances. This section examines how an unhealthy environment affects the health of a disaster-affected population. Further various public health interventions are discussed and their implementation illustrated.

Lecture topics addressed in this module include:

  • Water and sanitation
  • Managing the environment for displaced populations.
  • Vector and pest control
  • Shelter
  • Minimum requirements in environmental health

Epidemiology and Surveillance

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

Food and Nutrition

In emergencies, food insecurity is often one of the greatest problems; yet, knowing about various options such as rations, food vouchers or cash payments is critical to ensuring optimum nutritional status for the disaster-affected populations. Critically tied to food security is the issues of livelihoods and how to sustain these.

Lecture topics addressed in this module include:

  • Food security and livelihoods
  • Malnutrition indicators
  • Assessments, surveillance, and monitoring of malnutrition
  • Methods of providing adequate nutrition
  • Micronutrients
  • Minimum standards in food and nutrition

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
  • Psychosocial issues during humanitarian emergencies
  • Practical interventions during emergencies and post emergencies
  • Considering the psychological health of humanitarian workers

International Health Regulations

The International Health Regulations (IHR) are an international legal instrument that is binding on 196 countries across the globe. Their aim is to help the international community prevent and respond to acute public health risks that have the potential to cross borders and threaten people worldwide.

In this section you will learn:

  • Which disease situations should be reported and
  • What actions should be taken.
  • When IHR emergency committees are established
  • What procedures the WHO must follow in its work to uphold global public health security

Communicable Diseases

Populations displaced in emergencies are often threatened by diseases, both pre-existing, as well as new disorders arising from the environment which may have been altered. 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, ebola, 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

Non-Communicable Diseases

Increasingly displaced persons come from middle-income countries and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are common. The most frequent conditions are hypertension, type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive respiratory disease, cancers, and bone and joint disease. Managing these in the restricted circumstances of population displacement is a challenge.

Topic discussed:

  • Case finding of NCDs in the community
  • Managing NCDs in PHC facilities
  • Supply chain management
  • Referral to specialist care

Reproductive Health

Displaced persons have reproductive health needs which must be met in circumstances that are different from usual, and often with reduced resources.

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 and make decision-making complicated

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. Other components include refugee law and human rights law.

Lecture topics addressed in this module include:

  • Provisions of the Geneva Conventions
  • Human rights and refugee law
  • Implementation and enforcement of humanitarian law
  • Rights and duties of health professionals

Protection of vulnerable populations

During disasters and especially with displacement there may be many vulnerable groups, in addition to women and children who are almost always at risk. Identifying these groups and ensuring their protection is often a challenge. Topics include:

  • Defining and monitoring vulnerabilities
  • Various forms of protection available
  • Role of the health professional in protection

Causes of Conflcit

Conflict is the major cause of displacement, and in the past few years numbers have reached historic highs. Humanitarian workers must be aware of events which lead to conflicts but also what are the actions that can build stability post conflict.

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