Photo by Julien Harneis

Emergencies can undermine a population’s inherent resilience to disease. When people are under extreme stress, exposed to the elements, deprived of access to adequate food and water, and concentrated in makeshift settlements, they become increasingly vulnerable to infectious disease. It is no wonder that disease control rises to the top of the emergency health agenda.

In many recent conflict emergencies disease outbreaks have taken more lives than violence and trauma. Otherwise straightforward, manageable ailments, such as measles and diarrhea, can become raging killers. When emergencies occur in social environments with underlying poverty and inequality, and “normal” health service provision is already inadequate, there can be a rapid downward spiral into excessive mortality.

Still, the picture is not all bleak. It is now clear that, at least in natural disaster-based emergencies, rapid implementation of surveillance and reporting structures, along with effective early response can minimize the threat of outbreaks. Even in the more complex environment of conflict-based emergencies, the rigorous application of evidence-based analysis, and solid epidemiological procedure can be effective in countering the incidence and prevalence of disease.

In this module we introduce some basic concepts of disease control in the emergency environment.


The Johns Hopkins Public Health Guide to Emergencies
Chapter 7: Control of Communicable Diseases

Chapter 7 of the Johns Hopkins Public Health Guide to Emergencies coversthe basic principles of communicable disease control, major diseases in emergency settings, other emerging diseases, and methods of monitoring and evaluating disease control programs.


Refugee Health. An approach to emergency situations

Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders)

Refugee Health is a book intended for professionals involved in public health assistance to refugees and displaces persons. It deals with a wide variety of specific refugee health issues at the decisional level, and discusses the priorities of intervention during the different phases of a refugee crises, from emergency to repatriation.


Control of Communicable Diseases Manual

The (CCDM) is the most widely recognized sourcebook on infectious diseases provides detailed information on all infectious diseases, including their identification and control methods. The book is intended for public health workers in health agencies, and for all those responsible for infectious disease control and epidemiology in hospitals or communities. It is available for purchase at retail bookstores, and also online.


University of Hawaii at Manoa; Center of Excellence in DMHA; ICRC


Contact Information

Disaster Management & Humanitarian Assistance
University of Hawai'i at Manoa
2424 Maile Way, Saunders Hall 118
Honolulu, HI 96822