Pre-travel health advice guidelines for humanitarian workers

Added November 26, 2021

Citation: Costa M, Oberholzer-Riss M, Hatz C, et al. Pre-travel health advice guidelines for humanitarian workers: a systematic review. Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease. 2015;13(6):449-65.

Language: Abstract and full text only available in EN.

Free to view: No.

Funding sources: Nothing noted.

What is this? Resilient health systems need to be ready and responsive to health emergencies but may still need assistance from elsewhere. This might require the provision of pre-deployment travel health advice and safety preparation for humanitarian workers.

In this systematic review, the authors searched for articles about pre-travel interventions and recommendations for health-preserving measures in volunteers and professionals deploying in humanitarian relief missions. They restricted their searches to articles published in English, French, German and Italian and did the search in November 2014. They also sent questionnaires to 30 aid organizations providing disaster relief, of which 6 provided information about their pre-deployment preparation of aid workers. They included 35 articles, reporting on illnesses and causes of death (10 articles); healthcare workers’ characteristics, training and wishes (9) and expert opinions and recommendations (16).

What was found: High-risk hazards for aid workers are often location specific, and include travelers’ diarrhea, vector-borne infections, accidents, violence, tuberculosis, HIV, hepatitis A, leptospirosis, typhoid fever and seasonal and H1N1 influenza.

Pre-deployment physical and mental fitness are vital for success in humanitarian missions but pre-travel medical and psychological assessments and training or education sessions are often not mandatory, and many aid workers felt inadequately prepared.

Implications: The authors of the review concluded that medical evaluation of people who are traveling to provide humanitarian assistance can identify problems or risk factors (e.g., psychological frailty) that can be exacerbated during humanitarian missions. They noted that the status of routine vaccinations can be controlled and completed, medication dispensed, targeted preventive advice given and a mission specific first-aid kit recommended in this pre-travel setting. They stated that there is a lack of evidence-based literature for pre-travel advice guidelines for humanitarian workers and proposed a shared database of relevant literature and some standardization of guidelines.

Other considerations: The authors of the review did not discuss their findings in the context of issues relating to health equity.


This summary was prepared by Catherine Haynes and edited and finalized by Mike Clarke.

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