A Short History of UK-Med and the University of Manchester

It was over a coffee and a connection between three professors that the idea came about for UK-Med to base its headquarters at the University of Manchester, along with forming a new institute.

How It Began

When ill-health – including metal poisoning in the Balkans – meant that Tony Redmond was forced to retire from frontline emergency medicine he returned to a career in academia and was subsequently appointed Professor of International Emergency Medicine at the University of Manchester.

Here, Tanja Müller, now Professor of Political Sociology, introduced him to Professor Bertrand Taithe and a group of colleagues (professors Gatrell, Thompson and Jacoby), and in 2008 the idea for a new organisation was born: the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute (HCRI).

Within his field of Cultural History, part of Bertrand Taithe’s interests lay within the history of modern humanitarianism, and at the time Tony was keen to explore the background to humanitarian crises and those who respond to them. So, over several coffees, the two of them drafted a five-year plan for the Institute, then put the proposal to the University.

As Tony recalls in his biography, ‘There followed an impromptu and somewhat unstructured pitch to a benefactor, who very kindly offered us a significant start-up sum to establish the Institute straight away. A donation of this size meant it was matched pound for pound by the University, and so the HCRI was born. We recruited Dr Rony Brauman, former President of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) France, to be the iconic director and I became its deputy. The HCRI has gone from strength to strength since then, promoting research and teaching in humanitarian responses.’

‘The HCRI has gone from strength to strength since it began, promoting research and teaching in humanitarian responses.’    

Professor Tony Redmond, OBE

The purpose of the collaboration was to set up an international humanitarian research and teaching institute, with UK-Med carrying out the practical international emergency responses and HCRI studying the research data produced. When the University of Manchester also provided UK-Med with office space, this created a unique (and highly effective) co-location of a humanitarian NGO within an academic teaching institution.

The Impact of HCRI in Haiti

A key example of the success of this collaboration came when UK-Med responded to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Three months later, HCRI sent out a French and Creole-speaking research team, in collaboration with Handicap International (now Humanity & Inclusion UK), to do semi-structured interviews with survivors of the earthquake who’d had treatment. This found that within organisations like UK-Med, the Red Cross and MSF, the amputation rate was about seven per cent – which is normal for experienced surgical teams after earthquakes. However, within inexperienced teams the rate went up to 85%, as they didn’t have the skills to do limb salvage repair on site.

Renane, aged 8, practices balancing whilst wearing her new prosthetic leg. Photo: Russell Watkins

After lobbying by the HCRI and UK-Med, the WHO (World Health Organisation) set up a meeting in Cuba in December 2010, bringing together experts in the field to address how best to improve standards of foreign medical teams responding to disasters.

Ultimately this led to the establishment of the WHO Emergency Medical Teams Initiative, where those who apply must be registered specialists within the field of emergency medicine, ensuring the timeliness and quality of health services provided by national and international Emergency Medical Teams.

Fifteen Years On

Fifteen years on, the HCRI is now the leading global centre for the study of humanitarianism and conflict response, global health, international disaster management and peacebuilding. UK-Med have a core staff of sixty, with their headquarters still based within the University of Manchester. And David Wightwick, CEO of UK-Med, is a member of the academic staff within the HCRI.

Bringing together medicine and humanities, the HCRI offers taught undergraduate, Masters and PhD study that has global impact. For instance, when Dr Anisa Jafa carried out her PhD, with UK-Med support, on medical record keeping in sudden onset disasters, her research provided the basis of the data protocols now used by WHO’s Emergency Medical Teams.

And in 2021, UK-Med and HCRI collaborated with Save the Children and researcher associates, Raphaella Motadon and Maheshika Sakalasuriya on a joint research project called ‘Sounding the Siren’. Funded by DEC, this was a study into the impact of climate change on humanitarian response work, bringing together the experiences of aid workers to present its findings and recommendations at the global climate summit, COP26, in November 2021.


Today the HCRI has a multi-disciplinary team of academic staff, including clinical academics, and students located around the world. All of whom bring different perspectives to humanitarianism and conflict response.


“At HCRI, we take pride in attracting the brightest minds. It is the diversity of our people that makes us one of the world’s leading humanitarian institutes.”


Angela McBride and Harriet Walton with WHO and Ministry of Health colleagues, Cambodia 2020

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