Implications of Climate Change on Palliative Care

Categories: Opinion.

The United Nations defines climate change as long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. Such shifts can be natural, due to changes in the sun’s activity or large volcanic eruptions. Human activities have been the main driver of climate change. Human activities are causing greenhouse gases that are warming the world faster. Climate change can affect our health, ability to grow food, housing, safety, and work. People living in small island nations and other developing countries are the hardest hit and they are more vulnerable to climate impact. Climate change affects most if not all areas of life including the healthcare sector.

People living with palliative care needs as well as patients, institutions, and healthcare facilities that serve them are always affected when natural disasters strike. The ongoing climate crisis is a significant public health concern, causing an increase in natural disasters. A few months ago, Tropical Cyclone Freddy hit Malawi and The Palliative Care Association in Malawi sent out an appeal for support and donations to help people who need palliative care services after the healthcare system was disrupted by the Cyclone. It became very difficult for healthcare providers to offer palliative care services because of the damage caused to the infrastructure and also priorities as limited resources had to be prioritised for different and urgent needs. The African Palliative Care Association (APCA) together with The Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance (WHPCA) mobilised people to give through a fundraising initiative.

Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. Some existing health threats will intensify and new health threats will emerge. Not everyone is equally at risk. Important considerations include age, economic resources, and location. The health effects of these disruptions include increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease, injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather events, changes in the prevalence and geographical distribution of food- and water-borne illnesses and other infectious diseases, and threats to mental health.

Palliative care and the climate crisis are inextricably linked. Some suggested interventions can help support victims of natural disasters such as trauma support and debriefing services; crisis management palliative care for impacted clients and households; palliative care members of emergency response teams; medical management of symptoms where treatment disruption has occurred; deployment of staff, volunteers, space, or vehicles to assist in community response; counselling and grief support; participation in community rescue teams; access to back-up water and food supplies; etc. In recent years the impact of climate change has been worsening – let’s do our best and use our expertise and teamwork to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *