World Humanitarian Day 2022: Celebrating Humanitarian Healthcare Professionals

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17 Aug 2022

Supporting humanitarian healthcare professionals is an integral part of our work as the Faculty of Remote, Rural and Humanitarian Healthcare (FRRHH). To celebrate World Humanitarian Day 2022, we wish to spotlight the wide range of healthcare professionals who contribute to equitable access to healthcare worldwide. World Humanitarian Day is a campaign led by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

   Image: OCHA

We asked our Executive Committee, Faculty Advisory Board and humanitarian healthcare experts to share their experiences, challenges faced and how we as a Faculty can support the further professional development of humanitarian healthcare. The knowledge, experience and expertise drawn from this group continues to guide and inform the work of the Faculty.

We have collated responses from our humanitarian healthcare experts into a series of short articles to continue our work highlighting the importance of determining and recognising professional standards in humanitarian healthcare. We will endeavour to listen to this community and deliver the same opportunities for support and development that have been afforded to other healthcare professions.

In the first of a series of three articles, we share the challenges facing humanitarian healthcare professionals from within our own networks. We hope that this series is informative and stimulates further conversations on the topics raised within the international healthcare community.


Challenges of Humanitarian Healthcare 

When asked to consider the main motivation for contributing to humanitarian healthcare work, the resounding answer amongst respondents was that access to quality healthcare is a human right. It was articulated amongst all respondents that it was felt to be their professional obligation to help the sick and injured wherever they may be. It is our goal in the Faculty to support such altruism with training and professional standards, building on the work of many to further professionalise humanitarian healthcare.

The delivery of safe and equitable access to healthcare globally faces many challenges, both for those accessing it and for those who provide it. We have shared some of the responses below discussing the challenges and potential solutions.



The Impact of Climate Crisis 

There are growing concerns about the impact of the climate crisis and the increased risks to global health security it creates. These environmental changes will lead to conflict over dwindling resources, further migration and displacement as places become inhabitable. Paula Sansom of The Operations Partnership said,

As this summer has demonstrated, this will not be just happening in countries with weak states, so it will be vital to make sure that we have the capacity to respond effectively into the different contexts, so we may be providing technical assistance and capacity building rather than direct delivery of care.

Sounding the Siren is a study that draws on the experience of aid workers to present findings and recommendations for governments, aid and development organisations. Sounding the Siren is a collaboration between UK-Med, the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute at the University of Manchester, Save the Children UK, with funding from the Disaster Emergency Committee and dedicated work by Research Associates Raphaella Montadon and Maheshika Sakalasuriya. You can read the findings of this study and learn how you or your organisation can contribute here.



Attacks on Healthcare Facilities and Healthcare Professionals 

Another challenge is the safety of healthcare professionals globally. Healthcare facilities and professionals continue to be targeted and attacked during crises. Medecins Sans Frontieres continue to carry out the important work of reporting on and condemning attacks on healthcare professionals in order to affect change. Find out more about their work here.

While this is a very real danger for external healthcare professionals who deploy to a country, Sarah Richardson of Safeguard Medical considers how this effects local healthcare communities;

The challenges lie in health systems, political climates, corruption etc. What is considered a humanitarian context is someone’s home location - the local doctors and nurses and local health professionals are the people facing challenges, we as the external people deploying are not. We can leave, we can get health care elsewhere, we can get security when we need it, if it’s too unstable we leave. Local workers cannot and are so frequently forgotten. We need to shift focus away from the colonial complex of humanitarian work.


Complex and Multi Layered Crises

The restrictions of movement caused by complex and multi layered crises compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic make it harder for healthcare professionals to leave or seek respite. This adds an additional strain on mental health and wellbeing. Jennifer Collins of World Health Organisation shared her thoughts;

I believe the main thing facing humanitarian professionals at present is the high level of simultaneous humanitarian situations globally combined with the COVID-19 pandemic which has affected humanitarian workers ability to travel freely. These additional restrictions have, in my opinion, taken a mental toll and changed what it means to work within the humanitarian sector. I think the lack of freedom of movement can be mentally challenging as it is often those breaks from the situation or knowing a break is coming that makes you able to work in this area.


Home Nation Pressures

It is also important to highlight the challenges faced by external deploying healthcare professionals particularly the pressures felt from their own nations health service. Shaenna Loughanne of Bridge2Aid explains that,

Within the global north there seems to be a healthcare personnel crisis right now – both in medicine and dentistry. For those volunteering in low-income countries, there is also added pressure from their home countries, to stay and treat patients on their doorsteps.

Our partners UK-Med created a study asking NHS staff who took part in an international emergency medical response for their thoughts on how humanitarian healthcare deployments have benefited their NHS practice and patients. You can read the findings of the report “Global Health Responders - A Shot in the Arm for the NHS” here.



Lack of Training and Professional Support

Another issue raised was a lack of training and professional support for humanitarian healthcare professionals. Teresa Afonso of UK-Med feels that,

More specialised and tailored education is needed for appropriate humanitarian responses for different healthcare workers profiles, from coordination to clinical care, with adequate knowledge of humanitarian operations and context.” Standardised training and qualifications would help those deployed into humanitarian situations feel more prepared to deliver safe medical care to those who need it. This would also give organisations the reassurance that their teams have the right capabilities to properly serve their patients and assist recruitment of adequately trained healthcare professionals.


FRRHH Professional Standards; Further Professionalisation of Humanitarian Healthcare

The Faculty, in partnership with UK-Med will enable, enhance and define formal career pathways in humanitarian healthcare. We will work collectively to build upon previous work establishing standards for emergency medical care and teams to support the further professionalisation of humanitarian healthcare in a number of ways.

Professor Tony Redmond OBE, Founder of UK-Med and FRRHH Executive Committee member, said,

By establishing the Faculty, the work is brought into the normal professional fold that will support and foster the professional development of humanitarian healthcare workers.

Our global community of best practice, with representation from public, private, charity, INGO/NGO, remote, rural, and humanitarian healthcare pool their collective knowledge to create a globally recognisable standard; the FRRHH Capabilities Framework. This standard will then inform assessment and education services and activities with input from our global community of best practice to co-design and test. The three components are interconnected forming professional standards loop where all three components that simultaneously set, assess, and facilitate achievement of standards in remote, rural and humanitarian healthcare.

The diagram below gives an overview of the Faculty’s professional standard activity;



Andy Kent, Surgical Director at UK-Med and FRRHH Deputy Chair says,

There has been a huge upsurge in interest in humanitarian healthcare recently and FRRHH is well-placed to promote and facilitate this.

The Faculty’s professional standards activity in partnership with UK-Med will support those who wish to support humanitarian healthcare.

UK-Med have played a crucial role in the development of the Faulty since its inception. The creation of the Faculty’s first educational offering, the online Introduction to Humanitarian Healthcare Course is a key example of UK-Med's support and the course could not have been delivered without them. The course is aimed at those who are interested in commencing or developing a career, paid or voluntary, in humanitarian healthcare. Our desired outcome is to help those who are interested to make an informed decision as to their suitability by clearly outlining the realities and complexities of working in the field. As well as providing a suitable framework for reflecting on previous deployments.


If you wish to learn more about the work of the Faculty, please contact or learn more about our community of best practice and how to join here.


You may also be interested in reading our other blogs from our World Humanitarian Day 2022 series:

How Do You Get Started Working in Humanitarian Healthcare? | RCSEd

Working in Humanitarian Healthcare – Guidance from our experts | RCSEd

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