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Advice for Humanitarian Workers

General Advice

If you wish to lend assistance as a humanitarian worker, you should approach a professional aid organisation or charity for information and guidance on ways you can help. Even if you mean well, you may do more harm than good, and place yourself and others at risk if you travel to a disaster area independently without adequate preparation, training or support.

Travel, safety and security is likely to be disrupted following a disaster. You should consult the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) website for the latest up to date advice including travel restrictions.

It is strongly recommended that all humanitarian workers obtain comprehensive travel insurance, which includes evacuation and repatriation benefits, before travel. Be aware that your travel insurance will become invalid if you travel to a country against the advice of the FCDO.

Personal Advice

The nature of humanitarian work places you at greater risk than with other types of travel as you may face greater hazards and health risks because of flooding, unstable buildings, debris, lack of electricity, water, sanitation, health facilities and law enforcement.

You should ideally be in good physical and mental health to undertake humanitarian work. A health check from your GP or organisations occupational health adviser is advisable to ensure that you are fit for the demands of the deployment. It may also be of benefit for you to have a dental check-up before leaving if likely to be overseas for a prolonged period of time.

If you are pregnant or have a chronic health condition such as diabetes or a heart problem, there may be other more suitable ways to help rather than travelling to the disaster area which may place your health at greater risk.

If you are planning on travelling to an affected area, you should be relatively self-sufficient and ensure you are well equipped with the following:

  • Group or individual first aid kits
  • Prescription medications and over the counter medications to treat simple conditions
  • Water purification tablets and/or filter
  • Tent, sleeping bag and impregnated mosquito net
  • Sunscreen, insect repellent, condoms
  • Personal equipment such as a torch, batteries, candles, matches etc.
  • Protective clothing as appropriate (e.g. goggles, gloves, hat)
  • Sewing kit, laundry detergent
  • Toilet tissue, hand sanitiser, soap
  • Non-perishable, high-calorie food bars and rehydration salts
  • Spare spectacles or contact lenses, if worn.

Travel Health Advice

Humanitarian workers are often deployed at short notice. If you are planning on undertaking this type of work, you should consult with a travel health advisor as soon as possible for advice on topics such as vaccinations, malaria recommendations, general health advice. In addition, this may be a good opportunity to discuss how to treat common conditions such as travellers' diarrhoea; discuss accident prevention and personal safety; culture shock, mental health and other challenges which you may encounter as part of the crisis and how to manage these situations.

Vaccine Recommendations

Please review the individual country pages on fitfortravel for the most up to date advice. Where possible, try to receive vaccines 6-8 weeks before travel to develop adequate protection.

  • Ensure the following ‘core’ vaccines are up to date:
    • poliomyelitis, diphtheria and tetanus
    • measles, mumps and rubella
    • typhoid
    • hepatitis A and hepatitis B
    • rabies.
  • Consider if the following vaccines might be necessary:
    • influenza
    • yellow fever
    • cholera
    • meningococcal ACWY
    • Japanese encephalitis.

Malaria Recommendations

For the most up to date malaria advice, please see the individual country pages on fitfortravel.

Even when taking antimalarial tablets, prevention measures against mosquito bites is strongly recommended.

If reliable medical care won’t be easily accessible and you are travelling to a malaria risk region, it may be appropriate for you to take a supply of Stand-by Emergency Treatment for P.falciparum malaria. Additional advice on this as well as anti-malarial tablets (chemoprophlaxis) and mosquito bite prevention measures can be found in the fitfortravel malaria section.

Insect-borne Infections

Natural disasters can result in flooding and pooling of stagnant water which are optimal environments for insects to breed, meaning you will be at a higher risk of developing insect-borne infections such as malaria, Japanese encephalitis, dengue fever, leishmaniasis and chikungunya virus infection if you are bitten.

Food and Water-borne Infections

Access to safe food and water, sanitary and hygiene conditions will determine the types of disease outbreaks which occur in disaster areas. Food and water-borne infections include diseases like cholera, typhoid, shigellosis, hepatitis A and hepatitis E.

You should ensure you are vaccinated where possible and try to ensure safe drinking water and food hygiene measures are practiced to help reduce the risk of infections that are not vaccine-preventable. Paying attention to good hand hygiene is important, particularly before eating and after using the toilet.

For further information see food and water precautions.

Blood Borne Infections

Your risk of coming into contact with blood borne infections may be increased if there are current outbreaks, such as viral haemorrhagic fever at the destination; or if you have an accident or injury requiring local medical care or blood products; or from partaking in high risk lifestyle behaviours such as unsafe sex. Hepatitis B vaccination should be up to date and you should take precautions to minimise your risk of exposure.

Environmental and Other Hazards

As a humanitarian worker you should familiarise yourself with pertinent risk management advice such as:

Relief Workers Returning Home

If you sustain an injury or develop an illness whilst working in a disaster area; or become unwell after returning home, you should consult with your GP or occupational health department as soon as possible and explain that you have been working oversees in a humanitarian situation.

Mental health issues are not uncommon in returning humanitarian workers and time taken to rest, recuperate and readjust on your return home is very important. You should try to talk to family and friends about your experiences. If symptoms such as depression persist, then you should contact your GP as counselling may be required.

Further Resources

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