3.7. Health in temporary shelters and camps

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The displacement of large numbers of people to temporary shelters or camps as a result of a disaster or social violence creates a risk factor for health. Overcrowding, lack of basic services, and exposure to environmental changes can encourage emergence of disease, especially if shelter or camp operations are not well organized or continue over a long period of time. We have learned the importance of incorporating beneficiaries in the process of organizing shelters and camps. The provision of community-based services in these situations is very important.

The health sector and those responsible for managing disaster preparedness should coordinate closely with the entities responsible for planning and organizing temporary shelters and camps, so that the preparedness phase covers preventive measures and actions to ensure proper care of the population in these areas (see chapter 10 of this publication).

Depending on the type of disaster, the degree of overcrowding in shelters, climatic factors, and sociocultural realities, the diseases which occur most frequently include:

  • Respiratory diseases and human-transmitted diseases: colds, influenza, pneumonia, measles, tuberculosis, meningitis, HIV/AIDS.
  • Diarrheal diseases: salmonellosis, cholera, shigellosis, amebiasis, parasitosis.
  • Mosquito-borne diseases: malaria, dengue, encephalitis, yellow fever.
  • Nutritional disorders: malnutrition, micronutrient deficiency.
  • Skin diseases: Ectoparasites, scabies, pediculosis.
  • Violence: physical aggression, harassment.
  • Psychological problems: stress, anxiety, depression.

From a public health perspective, measures that ensure standards and practical guidelines on the following areas should be developed in the preparedness phase:

  • Water supply: quality control, monitoring of distribution of an adequate supply for food preparation, consumption and hygiene.
  • Disposal of excreta: guidelines for adoption of cost-effective measures.
  • Solid waste disposal.
  • Standards for communicable diseases surveillance, food and nutrition.
  • Health care services; primary health care.
  • Early detection and care of mental health problems.
  • Basic program for housing and a healthy environment.
  • Information system to collect information on the displaced or refugee population, risk factors, and needs assessment.