Calling for a palliative care response to cyclone Idai

Categories: Opinion and People & Places.

Cyclone Idai has just ripped through the eastern part of my country, having devastated Beira in Mozambique and created havoc in Malawi, leaving hundreds of thousands of families severely affected and traumatised in its wake.

The suffering of all those affected is plain to see. The extraordinary outpouring of community support in Zimbabwe at least, is a balm to the frustration we feel at the lack of formal preparedness for this well-documented weather phenomenon that was forecast for some time before it so savagely hit.

International humanitarian aid organisations and government departments are doing what they need to do and there is a long road ahead.

What may not be obvious to well-wishing communities and the relief organisations is what we palliative care practitioners know: beyond all the injuries, deaths, destroyed schools and other infrastructures, there are people of all ages who had already been living with life-threatening conditions, many dependent on medications and other forms of health support, and struggling to manage their conditions in countries with fragile, under-resourced health systems.

The international Palliative Care in Humanitarian Aid Situations and Emergencies (PalCHASE) network was formed in 2016 to undertake research and advocacy in recognition of the continuing and exacerbated needs of palliative care patients and their families in these situations.

This nascent organisation continues to evolve and find ways to establish significant responses to these needs. We do however have existing palliative care structures that I believe could and should be coordinating a palliative care response in tandem with other efforts.

I hope that the national palliative care associations in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi are considering how they can assist patients and families in all three countries.

We know the high percentage of our citizens living with HIV and dependent on ARVs for their survival. Delivering supplies of these medications alone would make a huge difference to ensure some continuity of treatment.

Pain and other medications for chronic conditions (relief efforts will traditionally be focused on acute medical needs) would assist families in transition.

Counselling bereaved families will be a difficult and long-term need. I would also hope that the African Palliative Care Association (APCA) takes a leadership and coordinator role in ensuring national associations are supported in their efforts.

Forging links with national government departments, well-established relief teams and humanitarian agencies to provide an integrated response would not only ensure that palliative care becomes an integral part of this crisis response, but may assist in advancing the palliative care advocacy agenda as a crucial part of the health system.