The Need for Professionalization of the Humanitarian Health Workforce

The 2011 Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) report recognized that a system of "accountability, quality control, reporting, certification and coordination is inevitable." Both individual humanitarian responders and the humanitarian community as a whole share this obligation to the beneficiaries of their care. Significant inter-agency and regional differences in entry-level qualifications for humanitarian health workers have contributed to wide variation and unpredictability in humanitarian practice. The ad hoc, transient, and often "voluntary" nature of humanitarian health workers has also precluded systematic training, knowledge translation, and the monitoring, evaluation and evolution of field practices. In 2008, there were about 220,000 aid workers in the world, and the number has grown at about 6% yearly.[1] Currently, the majority of aid workers come from Europe and North America, even as the need for humanitarian and disaster response in the most vulnerable regions of the world, including Asia, Africa and Latin America, is expected to grow over the coming decades. There is urgent need for higher education institutions and the humanitarian community to move rapidly toward the standardization of humanitarian training, and to provide this training in the most vulnerable regions of the world.

Current Global Efforts Towards Professionalization
Several sector-wide networks have developed over recent years to address the issue of professionalization in humanitarian aid, such as the Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA) network. ELRHA supports linkages between higher education institutions and humanitarian partners around the world and consists of regional hubs (currently active in North America, the UK, Europe, and East Africa, with additional hubs anticipated in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East), all working together to standardize and professionalize the training of humanitarian aid workers. In 2011, the EU gave a sizeable grant to the University of Bonn and 20 EU partner universities to establish a unified education and training program for humanitarian providers to support the fielding of FMTs. DFID supports similar initiatives in the UK. The inclusion of the topic of humanitarian professionalization within the Davos Global Risk Forum in December 2011 further served to accelerate the discussion among training programs worldwide.[2] It is time for North American universities and NGOs engaged in humanitarian training to come together to support this global movement to professionalize humanitarian assistance by guaranteeing a system of improved "accountability, quality control, reporting, registration, certification and coordination" among humanitarian providers.

[1] Walker P & Russ C. (2010). Professionalizing the Humanitarian Sector. A scoping study. Report commissioned by ELRHA. Feinstein International Center and RedR UK.

[2] Burkle FM. (2011). Accountability & Accreditation of Emergency Service Providers. Submitted at the Global Risk Forum GRF Davos, Switzerland.