Rising to the Challenge

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Rising to the Challenge

Reflections on the Palliative Care Response in the Face of Climate Change

Across the globe, Monday, April 22nd is recognized as Earth Day. This awareness day brings together advocates from around the world on the importance of protecting the environment and designing solutions to combat the harmful effects of climate change. Communities often need immediate help in the face of climate disasters, and palliative care teams are often of the frontlines of helping meet this need. Over the last few years, several of our GPIC partners have been faced with climate disasters and have stepped up to support the most vulnerable in their communities. Palliative care patients are often forgotten about in an emergency response, but the support provided by palliative care organizations ensures these patients and their families continue to receive the care they need.

South Coast Hospice installs water tanks to ensure potable water for patients, 2022

With the damage in infrastructure that leads to food shortages, mass displacement and an increase in the mortality rate, palliative care can play a vital role in helping communities. From providing nutritional services to offering care such as bereavement services or management for chronic conditions, palliative care organizations have provided instrumental support that helps communities rebuild after climate disasters.

During South Africa’s 2022 winter season, floods devastated the KwaZulu-Natal province leading to billions of dollars in damaged infrastructure and displacing many. Despite sustaining damage to their facilities, South Coast Hospice and Khanya Hospice continued to maintain their commitment to care for patients. Last year, Cyclone Freddy caused widespread destruction in southern Malawi. Springing into action, Palliative Care Support Trust (PCST) and St. Luke’s Hospital began assessing the needs of the patients in their community.

The need from climate disasters is expected to grow in the face of climate change. The need for palliative care services in these situations will grow as well. Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia have all recently declared states of emergency due to the extreme drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon. In Zimbabwe, they have reported receiving 80% less rainfall than the year prior, wreaking havoc on the nation’s food production. For palliative care patients, this can have devastating consequences, as nutrition is a vital piece to caring for a patient with a life-threatening illness.

Moving forward, palliative care will continue to play a vital role in the response to climate disasters through its holistic model of care and ability to adapt to the needs of a patient and a community. Many valuable lessons can be learned from the ways in which palliative care organizations continue to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in their community and foster compassion that brings people together to support one another.

Furthermore, the collaboration and partnership between palliative care organizations across the globe supports the resilience of palliative care organizations throughout these challenging circumstances. For example, Khanya Hospice, South Coast Hospice, St. Luke’s Hospital and PCST received emergency support from their respective US partners: VITAS Healthcare of Philadelphia, The Community Hospice, Hospice of Northwest Ohio and UpliftedCare, as well as Global Partners in Care. Together, we can work to ensure and even expand access to palliative care services that will work to meet the needs of patients and support sustainable infrastructure in palliative care organizations that better equips them to respond to challenges brought by the climate crisis.