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A guide to emergency health

21 April 2017, Emergencies

Earlier this month, Save the Children launched its new Emergency Health Unit (EHU).

The EHU operates out of London, Washington DC and now Melbourne. This will enable us to respond even faster and be better equipped to respond to disasters that unfold in the Asia Pacific Region. But what is the EHU? And what does it do? 

So, what is the Emergency Health Unit? 

When disaster strikes, humanitarian teams must respond instantly, and get teams on the ground in time to save lives. The first minutes, hours and days after a disaster are the most crucial. The longer it takes for help and medical supplies to arrive the greater the toll. 

The Emergency Health Unit is designed to get the right people, with the right equipment and supplies to the right location as quickly as possible. 

We have a network of health teams and specialists, strategically positioned in emergency hotspots around the world. 

When you say health teams and specialists, who are you talking about? 

The success of the Emergency Health Unit as a whole, depends on the sum of its parts. It requires the collective capacity of our team members in combination with an individual sense of compassion and a drive to help those in need – whoever and wherever they may be, and whatever the circumstances. 

Nurses, doctors and paramedics

Clearly, these members are key to the treatment and management of immediate healthcare and medical needs after a disaster. They deal with primary healthcare, specialist services and vaccinations, and respond to potential outbreaks of disease. Our nurses and paramedics work closely with the medical logistician to dispense supplies, nutritional care and the daily needs of patients under the care of the EHU. 


Technical name, crucial role. The main responsibility of our logisticians is getting the right equipment, medicines and supplies to the right place at the right time. This includes supervision, warehouse management, procurement, transport, storage and distribution of supplies and material goods necessary to run the Emergency Health Unit. 

Clinical lead

The clinical lead makes sure quality and effective emergency care is delivered in every emergency with special attention to children, pregnant women, and newborn babies and their mothers. 

Other key members of the Emergency Health Unit include:
  • Team leaders 
  • Infant and young children feeding and nutrition specialists 
  • Mental health and psychosocial specialists 
  • Sexual and reproductive health specialists 
  • Water and sanitation specialists 
  • Public health specialists 
  • Storytellers, communications and media specialists

How quickly can the Emergency Health Unit be on the ground saving lives? 

As soon as disaster strikes, our Emergency Health Unit moves into action. Flights are booked, visas are checked and suppliers are alerted. Teams are briefed of their itineraries and take off within 24 hours. 

From there, we expect supplies and staff to be in the disaster zone, treating injuries, preventing the spread of disease and providing support within 72 hours of the event. In situations that can be pre-empted, such as extreme weather events, our teams can be prepared for action even sooner. Sometimes they are on the ground before a monster storm even makes landfall. 

But how does this change what we’re already doing? 

Save the Children is recognised worldwide for our ability to respond to disasters and emergency events quickly and with world-class expertise. Strategic positioning of staff and a global network of partners enable us to deliver aid where it is most urgently needed. The new Emergency Health Unit raises the bar, particularly when it comes to the Asia Pacific region. We have strengthened and expanded key partnerships and streamlined our ability to recruit and deploy the right people in the right places, so we can reach children and families without delay. 

And what happens after the dust settles? 

Within three months of a disaster occurring, the Emergency Health Unit will hand over to Save the Children health professionals, local health actors or the country’s ministry of health. This enables us to prepare for our next response. Follow-up teams make sure children continue to receive quality care. Our experts in psychosocial care, support and education will also be there for children who need them. 

Ok. I’m keen to join the team. Who do I call? 

Good news! We’re looking for nurses, doctors, paramedics, engineering professionals, public health specialists, logisticians and infant and young children feeding specialists and nutritionists who are committed to delivering quality work in some of the toughest places on the planet. You can make a major contribution to this ground-breaking frontline emergency healthcare service. Register your interest.

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