Public Health Emergencies (PHE)

Public health emergencies are increasing in frequency and severity, driven by population mobility and displacement, the growth of urbanization and population density, climate change, and by the impact of, often protracted, humanitarian crises. The annual number of outbreaks has increased more than threefold since 1980. Public Health Emergencies affect every facet of children’s lives. Health emergencies exacerbate existing vulnerabilities, create additional burden on women and children and cause huge disruption in health and social services.

UNICEF is involved every year in over 100 responses related to public health crises. UNICEF ensures that outbreak response strategies are inclusive of children, women, and vulnerable groups, and adapted to their needs, particularly where public health infrastructure may be weakened by epidemic drivers and structural vulnerabilities.

UNICEF preparedness and response to public health emergencies aim to prevent outbreaks, and to detect and respond to them before they can generate high mortality and society disruption. UNICEF addresses the specific needs of the most vulnerable and simultaneously focuses on addressing the outbreak, controlling its spread, and addressing its socio-economic consequences on affected population's health, safety, and well-being, particularly of women and girls.

 

To meet these objectives, UNICEF promotes a no-regrets whole-of-society and equity-based approach to public health emergencies preparedness and response that is coordinated with WHO and complements the biomedical response. The PHE programmatic strategy focuses on interventions that allow an effective link between immediate response to a declared outbreak, structural support to address socio-economic impacts and actions to prepare for recurrent public health threats. This holistic approach is crucially taken to giving support across the entire spectrum from short term to long-term (or ‘relief to development’).

 

UNICEF child-centred mandate is governed by the Convention of the Rights of the Child UNICEF mission statement and the Core Commitments to Children (CCCs) in Public Health Emergencies. At global level, UNICEF directly contributes to the implementation of the International health regulations (2005) as a partner of the WHO and the IHR signatory Member States. UNICEF response role in emergency settings is also regulated by the IASC Humanitarian System-wide Scale-Up Activation Protocol for the Control of Infectious Disease (2019).

The UNICEF Public Health Emergencies Section provides a global lead for PHEs preparedness and response and specific expertise in response to diseases such as Covid-19, Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers, Zika, cholera, pandemic influenza, plague, yellow fever, vaccine preventable diseases and others, as well as in International Health Regulations and Epidemic Preparedness.

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