How can we improve the public health response in humanitarian crises?

Adequate, high quality, evidence is lacking to inform humanitarian response teams to ensure they deliver effective interventions. This gap was identified through a 2015 evidence review of research on health interventions in humanitarian crises, authored by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and commissioned by Elrha’s Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises Programme (R2HC).

Through a series of systematic reviews of the available literature and qualitative interviews with practitioners, policymakers and academics, the predominant gaps and weaknesses in the evidence base for humanitarian public health responses were identified as well as priorities for future research.




Humanitarian crises today

There is great diversity in the types of humanitarian crises that occur today. This results in an equally widespread need for humanitarian assistance.


The number of humanitarian crises has risen in recent years and led to an upward trend in the number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) worldwide.

The total number of people forcibly displaced from their homes reached a record high in 2015, with more than 65 million forcibly displaced worldwide.

Globally, 33,972 people are forced to flee their homes each day.


With numbers increasing, the need is more important than ever to provide evidence-based interventions to ensure quality healthcare services are provided.

Conflict was the greatest source of both refugees and IDPs in 2015, with more than half of them coming from Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia.



What evidence do we have?

The review of the available evidence to date found that research on the effectiveness of health interventions during humanitarian crises has increased significantly during the last decade.


But when considering the great diversity in the types of humanitarian crises and the variety of healthcare needs that will be required, it was concluded that the evidence available is too limited, particularly for dealing with care relating to gender-based violence (GBV), Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and Water and Sanitation (WASH).



Identifying the priorities


The volume of evidence remains far too limited, particularly for certain areas of public health.


While some healthcare interventions require further evidence to support their effectiveness, others require evidence to support the best method of delivering them.

Greater evidence is also needed on urban, rural and dispersed populations, as the majority of current evidence comes from services provided in a camp setting.


If these gaps in the evidence base are prioritized and studies then conducted to provide the missing information, this will help ensure a high-quality and in-depth catalogue of evidence to better inform humanitarian public health programming in the future.

This increase in evidence can be achieved through regular collaboration between humanitarian agencies and research institutions, such as the LSHTM.

For more insight into the review findings, you can read the full review online.