Prioritising health activities in humanitarian crises

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Helpdesk Query:

Identify available literature/information on prioritisation of health activities in humanitarian crises.


The Sphere Humanitarian Charter states that: All people should have access to health services that are prioritised to address the main causes of excess mortality and morbidity.  There are a number of handbooks to aid prioritisation in crisis situations (highlighted in section 2 of this report):

  • The Johns Hopkins and Red Cross Red Crescent public health guide outlines essential tasks for prioritising health services and shows a simple technique for ranking health problems in emergencies.
  • The Humanitarian Practice Network (HPN) guide proposes questions for identifying health problems for prioritisation and a framework for answering these.
  • The UNICEF Emergency Field Handbook gives a priority action checklist.
  • The WHO Health and Nutrition Tracking Service (HNTS) highlights priority indicators for assessing the nutritional and general health situation in complex emergencies.
  • Medecins Sans Frontieres list intervention priorities for refugee health for the emergency and post-emergency phase of a situation.

Further resources, section 3, include papers on distributive justice and resource allocation, a paper examining how evidence is used to assess needs in Southern Sudan, an opinion paper and two systematic reviews.

Section 4 describes some priorities outlined for different countries. The case studies in Section 5 offer some experience which may help to prioritise health intervention in future crises.

Data collection and measurement are key to determining priorities in humanitarian crises. Section 6 includes guidelines, comments and advice for data collection and evaluations.


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