Measuring results of humanitarian action: adapting public health indicators to different contexts

Chiara Altare, William Weiss, Marwa Ramadan, Hannah Tappis, Paul B. Spiegel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humanitarian crises represent a significant public health risk factor for affected populations exacerbating mortality, morbidity, disabilities, and reducing access to and quality of health care. Reliable and timely information on the health status of and services provided to crisis-affected populations is crucial to establish public health priorities, mobilize funds, and monitor the performance of humanitarian action. Numerous efforts have contributed to standardizing and presenting timely public health information in humanitarian settings over the last two decades. While the prominence of process and output (rather than outcome and impact) indicators in monitoring frameworks leads to adequate information on resources and activities, health outcomes are rarely measured due to the challenges of measuring them using gold-standard methods that are difficult to implement in humanitarian settings. We argue that challenges in collecting the gold-standard performance measures should not be a rationale for neglecting outcome measures for critical health and nutrition programs in humanitarian emergencies. Alternative indicators or measurement methods that are robust, practical, and feasible in varying contexts should be used in the interim while acknowledging limitations or interpretation constraints. In this paper, we draw from existing literature, expert judgment, and operational experience to propose an approach to adapt public health indicators for measuring performance of the humanitarian response across varied contexts. Contexts were defined in terms of parameters that capture two of the main constraints affecting the capacity to obtain performance information in humanitarian settings: (i) access to population or health facilities; and (ii) availability of resources for measurement. Consequently, 2 × 2 tables depict four possible scenarios: (A) a situation with accessible populations and with available resources; (B) a situation with available resources but limited access to affected populations; (C) a situation with accessible populations and limited resources; and (D) a situation with both limited access and limited resources. Methods and data sources can vary from large population-based surveys, rapid assessments of populations or health facilities, routine health management information systems, or data from sentinel sites in the community or among facilities. Adapting indicators and methods to specific contexts of humanitarian settings increases the potential for measuring the performance of humanitarian programs beyond inputs and outputs by assessing health outcomes, and consequently improving program impact, reducing morbidity and mortality, and improving the quality of lives amongst persons affected by humanitarian emergencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number54
JournalConflict and Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Humanitarian settings
  • Measurement methods
  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Performance
  • Public health indicators

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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