Health Cluster Guide: A Practical Handbook

Manual and Guideline
Originally published
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This Health cluster guide advises how the health cluster lead agency, coordinator and partners can work together during a humanitarian crisis to achieve the aims of reducing avoidable mortality, morbidity and disability, and restoring the delivery of and equitable access to preventive and curative health care.

It highlights key principles of humanitarian health action and how coordination and joint efforts among health and other sector actors working in partnership can increase the effectiveness and efficiency of health interventions and promote better health outcomes. It draws on Inter-Agency Standing Committee and other documents but also includes lessons from field experience.

Although addressed to health cluster lead agencies, coordinators and partners, the guidance is equally valid for coordinators and members of health sector groups that seek to achieve effective health action in countries where the cluster approach has not been formally adopted.

Throughout the Health cluster guide, the term “health cluster” may refer to “health cluster or sector coordination group”.

The guide should be useful in different humanitarian crisis contexts, including sudden onset and slow onset crises and protracted emergencies. It does not address all the specificities of the different contexts.


CHAPTER 1: Explains the humanitarian coordination mechanism and principles and how humanitarian action has evolved in recent decades. It includes an overview of humanitarian principles and other key global initiatives that have helped shape humanitarian coordination.

CHAPTER 2: Outlines how to establish a health cluster at country level. It summarizes the broader humanitarian coordination architecture, the core functions of the health cluster, the process for activation and deactivation of the health cluster, and the structure and composition of the health cluster at national and subnational levels. The chapter also summarizes inter-cluster coordination and the respective roles and responsibilities of the World Health Organization as cluster lead agency, the health cluster coordination team and health cluster partners.

CHAPTER 3: Explains how to build and maintain an effective health cluster. It provides an overview of key skills required for effective health cluster coordination, along with good practice tips for a health cluster coordinator. The skills covered in this chapter include leadership and decision-making; communication and facilitation; relationship- and partnership-building, and engaging partners; consensus-building and conflict resolution; advocacy; and management of effective health cluster meetings.

CHAPTER 4: Covers the various stages of information processing from collection, collation and production to storage and retrieval to dissemination, which are key to programming and inter-agency coordination. The availability of quality information guides decision-makers and positively impacts collective and operational response activities.

CHAPTER 5: Describes the actions required to promote standards and ensure a quality health response across the continuum of care at all levels of the health system, and to ensure access to and availability of quality health care services in a humanitarian setting. It also describes the policies and technical guidelines that define the way in which health cluster work should be conducted and monitored.

CHAPTER 6: Explains how humanitarian and development actors should work together, based on their comparative advantages, towards collective outcomes that reduce need, risk and vulnerability over multiple years and increase health system resilience.

CHAPTER 7: Covers advocacy, which is a core function of the cluster and plays a critical role in supporting and enhancing the actions of health cluster partners to prepare for and respond to public health and humanitarian emergencies and ensure better health outcomes in affected populations and contexts.

CHAPTER 8: Describes the integrated programming processes that may promote coordination and strategic collaboration across two or more clusters or sectors with the goal of achieving better health outcomes through collective action.

CHAPTER 9: Describes the role of the health cluster in emergency preparedness, which covers the wide range of capacities that countries and communities should have in place to manage the health risks and consequences of emergencies. These include risk mitigation, emergency prevention, preparedness (including operational readiness), and response and recovery measures.

CHAPTER 10: Explains the purpose and types of needs assessments and what information is needed to provide the necessary evidence base for strategic planning, as well as the baseline information upon which situation and response monitoring systems will rely.

CHAPTER 11: Provides an overview of strategic response planning in a humanitarian situation aiming to ensure an evidence-based, resource-effective and results-oriented collective response to which clusters and organizations contribute. It outlines the respective responsibilities within and the process of development of the humanitarian response plan and the health cluster response plan.

CHAPTER 12: Defines and describes ways of monitoring the health cluster response, the relationship between planning and monitoring, the need for elaborating the response monitoring framework, and the roles and responsibilities of the health cluster team.

CHAPTER 13: Describes the resource mobilization processes, including fundraising for the humanitarian response against humanitarian response plans, flash appeals, or other calls for funding. It explains the responsibility of the health cluster coordinator to monitor the health cluster funding status on an ongoing basis and the need to lobby donors to allocate additional resources where there are funding gaps.