HELP: Training course for managing relief operations in humanitarian crises

12 September 2019

Upcoming courses:
Honolulu, USA: 9-20 September
Tehran, Iran: 9-20 November
Baltimore, USA: 2-11 January 2020
Beirut, Lebanon: 3-14 February 2020
Delhi, India: 24 February-6 March 2020

The HELP course (Health Emergencies in Large Populations) is a multidisciplinary training course for managing humanitarian operations in disasters, conflicts and other crises.

More information: HELP brochure

Dates, places, registration fees and contact information: HELP courses calendar for 2019 and 2020.


What are the most effective means to protect the lives and dignity, and promote the health, of people affected by major disasters or armed conflicts? What must be done to analyse a complex crisis, evaluate needs, assess the resources available and set priorities? What goes into planning and managing a response and, later, evaluating its effectiveness?

How should threats to public health be prevented or responded to, mental and social well-being promoted, and care provided in a way that is effective, sustainable, respectful and ethically sound?

These are some of the complex issues that humanitarian personnel have to tackle, often during emergencies.

HELP – Health Emergencies in Large Populations - is a two-week course on the provision of humanitarian relief during disasters, armed conflicts and other complex crises. It was created in 1986 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the University of Geneva, to professionalize the delivery of humanitarian assistance during emergencies, and to promote professional ethics and humanitarian principles.

These courses have been held in various parts of Europe, Latin America, North America, Africa and Asia. Since 1986, approximately 4,000 health professionals and humanitarian aid workers from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations, ministries of health, military medical services and academic institutions have attended the course.

A joint effort

The course is organized by the ICRC in partnership with academic institutions, the WHO and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Our current partners are:

In Ouidah, Benin: Institut régional de Santé Publique
In Baltimore, Maryland, USA:
The Bloomberg School of Public Health and School of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University
In Honolulu, Hawaii, USA:
The Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance and the University of Hawaii
In Geneva, Switzerland:
The Geneva Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action (CERAH, University of Geneva), and the WHO
In Tokyo, Japan:
The Japanese Red Cross Nursing College, Japanese Red Cross Society, ICRC Tokyo, WHO
In Havana, Cuba:
Escuela Nacional de Salud Publica and the Cuban Red Cross
In Tehran, Iran
: The School of Public Health at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences and the Iranian Red Crescent
In New Delhi, India: International Institute for Health Management Research, The WHO's Office for India, the Indian Red Cross Society and the National Disaster Management Authority (TBC)
In Beirut, Lebanon: The Lebanese Red Cross, the Lebanese University and WHO


The course explores the principles underlying the provision of humanitarian assistance in health emergencies and major health crises, and the methods of providing such assistance. It begins with a consideration of certain key concepts: public health tools, humanitarian principles, professional ethics, and effective decision-making in crises. After that, various aspects of health emergencies are examined: health care, nutrition, economic security, water and habitat, environmental health, prevention and control of communicable diseases, epidemiology in the field, mental health, sexual violence, the safety of humanitarian workers and the stresses to which they are subject, and the imperatives of international humanitarian law. Every section – nutrition, for instance – begins with an overview of the various stages of the planning process: assessing needs, analysing the context, selecting priorities, setting objectives, mobilizing resources, drafting plans, and implementing and evaluating activities.

Depending on the local context and current events, other topics may also be addressed: first aid in the field, war surgery, management of dead bodies, responses to nuclear, radiological, biological or chemical threats, pandemics, protection of medical personnel and facilities during crises, health needs of women, children and other vulnerable groups, and so on.

Participants are encouraged to share their field experiences. The course essentially sets out various approaches to public health that can be adopted by all humanitarian organizations; by doing so, it contributes indirectly to more effective coordination in emergency operations.

Teaching concepts and methods

The course emphasizes problem solving and participatory teaching and learning: analysis of situations and group discussions are key elements. Various teaching methods are used: lectures by experts, selected readings, group work in problem solving, simulations of disasters, field visits, and presentations by the participants themselves. In some places, distance-learning modules allow participants to prepare for or supplement the residential course.

Course dates, registration, fees and credits

For course dates, registration fees and credits, please contact the course coordinator, as indicated in the calendars of courses below.

Working languages

The languages in which the course will be taught are listed below, by place.

In Geneva, Fukuoka, Baltimore, Nairobi, Honolulu, New Delhi, Beirut and Tehran: English
In Havana: Spanish
In Ouidah: French


The course is intended for professionals involved in humanitarian action, who have field experience and hold positions of responsibility in humanitarian operations, particularly the following: health professionals, such as doctors, nurses or nutritionists; public health officers and epidemiologists; water and environmental engineers; legal or policy advisers; and people with strategic and managerial duties.

Candidates working in countries affected by humanitarian crises are given special consideration.

A certificate of attendance is issued to every participant at the end of the course.

The average number of participants per course is 25-30.


ICRC, Assistance Division, HELP courses

HELP brochure

HELP courses calendar for 2019

HELP courses calendar for 2020