Promoting health and preventing diseases in shelters during humanitarian crisis
Health Wise
April 27, 2021

Promoting health and preventing diseases in shelters during humanitarian crisis

SHELTER IS A basic human need and a critical determinant for survival and coping in the majority of crises. It is enshrined in human rights law under the right to adequate housing, which includes sufficient space and protection,
as well as appropriate siting of settlements and availability of services.

Sheltering the victims of disasters and performing urgent rehabilitation is often a core humanitarian activity to prevent excessive mortality and morbidity. Beyond survival, shelter is necessary to provide security and ensure personal safety and protection, and to promote resistance to ill health and disease.

It is also important for human dignity, to sustain family and community life, and to enable affected populations to recover from the impact of disasters. Moreover, shelter plays an essential role in reducing vulnerability and building communities’ resilience.

When people are displaced and seek refuge in shelters, they come with different health related conditions ranging from infectious diseases to chronic illness. It is important that the shelter intake form can capture any medical conditions and allergies so that the health risk of the shelter can be assessed, and shelter surveillance can be put in place if needed. This is a very critical step especially with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Shelters are ideal environment for the spread of communicable diseases since people generally gather in small spaces, and sanitation conditions are sometimes challenged.

The next important thing is to ensure that those with acute conditions are cared for and that arrangements are put in place to access care if someone with an acute condition falls ill. Those with chronic conditions may have some medication to last them a couple days, but, it is important that a mechanism is put in place for persons with chronic illness, of those that require sustained treatment to have access to care. Conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases, HIV etc. should be prioritized, and plans to get replacement medication without any
delay organized. The continuity of care is critical to avoid any complications and further distress.

While persons are in shelters, they are away from their comfort zones with the added burden and shock. Ensuring that there is psychosocial support is a key aspect to help to cope with any loss, to survive in the new environment
and to recover.

Routines are generally disrupted, and so people may sit all day having nothing to do. It is important that the shelter environment organize games and physical activities for everyone to participate in, especially adults and the elderly.

While in shelters, the consumption of clean water must also be encouraged to avoid dehydration.