By Nidhi Panwar, Canadian Red Cross Youth Advisory Committee member

Over the last few years, some humanitarian crises have attracted worldwide attention, such as the 2015 earthquake in Nepal and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.  Despite the avalanche of coverage these emergencies generate, there exist other emergencies that are “silent” and slip under the radar of the media  and the general public. While under reported, the affected populations still have urgent needs to be met.

The Canadian Red Cross can send trained aid workers, medical equipment or a Health Emergency Response Unit (ERU).The Canadian Red Cross responds to both sudden-onset and silent emergencies. Through a Strategic Partnership with the Government of Canada for Health in Emergencies, the Canadian Red Cross is able to provide life-saving services where they’re needed most. The Canadian Red Cross can send trained aid workers, medical equipment or a Health Emergency Response Unit (ERU).

Whether it’s crises from a conflict or a natural disaster, ensuring there are proper health services available is paramount in a humanitarian response. We strive to reach people at the “last mile”, that is the most vulnerable people, including reaching communities in places other organizations may not have access.

The Canadian Red Cross ERU is set up in modules, with each module addressing a particular health need, such as maternal and newborn health, surgery, x-ray, outpatient services, among others. Each module consists of equipment and supplies for its particular purpose; included are the necessary support services to run an ERU, like generators, toilets, handwashing stations and tents. When health-care services are needed after a disaster or emergency, the Canadian Red Cross sends the specific modules that are needed, like building blocks.

 A notable success of this flexible system took place in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew. Rather than establishing a fixed emergency hospital in one location, the need was to move the personnel and equipment to different towns and villages to provide basic health care and referrals to those who needed it. The mobile health clinics were designed to make access to health easier for those affected by the disaster by providing essential health services in a way that can travel easily. “This adaptability is important because it allows us to better respond to the actual needs on the ground and provide an efficient and effective response in challenging circumstances,” says James Sedgewick, Canadian Red Cross ERU Coordinator.

Similarly, during the hurricane season last year, there was a need identified in the Caribbean to send an Operating Theatre. In the past, the ERU would have to send multiple kits to provide an operating theatre, but thanks to the modular design, the specific needs of the community were met more efficiently by just sending the specific components that were required. This is especially handy when the team and supplies aim to be ready to deploy within 48-72 hours.

A notable feature of Red Cross responses is the collaborative nature of the response. James explains, “Needs are assessed at the local level, with the local Red Cross National Society of the affected country taking the lead, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (IFRC) if the disaster response requires regional or global support.”

The Canadian and other National Societies only provide assistance when it’s requested by IFRC, and work closely with the local personnel in all relief and recovery operations. This ensures that the affected communities needs are paramount in any response.

The speed and efficiency with which the ERU response is deployed goes a long way in addressing some of the most urgent healthcare demands in silent emergencies.

Nidhi Panwar is a PhD student in the department of Political Science at the University of Calgary. Nidhi studies counterterrorism and human rights in India and is a Junior Fellow of the Massey College and a recipient of the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship to Honour Nelson Mandela.