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Humanitarian emergencies resulting from armed conflicts and natural disasters necessitate the most rapid of public health responses. During 2009 and 2010, practitioners highlighted two critical opportunities in such settings: (1) to respond to the changing needs for health assessment and healthcare delivery for conflict-affected communities and (2) to strengthen operational research capacity for disease control programmes that serve vulnerable populations.1 2 Both ideas signal the need for reinforcement of training for health workers in crises and they also resonate with the aims of field epidemiology.
Field epidemiology encompasses the investigation of infectious diseases and other health events and the conduct of succinct research studies using surveillance data. These tools are applied to derive evidence rapidly for intervention and policy change. Epidemiologists working for non-governmental organisations, ministries of health and international organisations use this approach to assess disease burden and to plan and evaluate interventions, sometimes in very challenging circumstances.3 4 This approach can flexibly contend with the changing demographics of crisis-affected populations who may be living longer, who …