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Highlighting Partners in Health’s Experience of Addressing Climate Disasters
 
 
 
 

Highlighting Partners in Health’s Experience of Addressing Climate Disasters

 
Mr. Victor Kanyema
 
Partners in Health, Neno District, Malawi
 
 

Background

In March 2019, Cyclone Idai ravaged several Southern African countries including Malawi. With extreme rainfall, floods and mudslides, many of the region’s poorest populations were tragically hit. In Neno, thousands of households were affected with loss to lives, crops, livestock's and property. Since 2007, Partners In Health (PIH) through the Program on Social and Economic Rights (POSER) has employed an all-inclusive approach in its mission of “Providing a preferential option for the poor in health care”. Therefore, in addition to working towards high-quality clinical services, social supports like food packages for nutritional supplements, transport reimbursements to ease access to care, in-ward support and housing, form part of the clinical care compendium that patients receive. Over the years, PIH has noted that climate change, such as Cyclone Idai is becoming a major challenge in rural Malawi. Its devastating effects are putting vulnerable clients at increased risk of illness and loss of economic possibility. Recognizing the impact of natural disasters on people’s health, PIH has been driven to respond to such emergencies.

Response
PIH’s response to Cyclone Idai was three-tiered. First, medical teams were put on high alert, and health facilities stocked to address emergencies coming from affected areas. Second, in collaboration with the District Council and the Department of Social Welfare, PIH moved quickly to assess the situation on the ground, mobilize resources and provide emergency assistance to affected homes in the form of 50kg bags of maize for food, plastic papers for roofing temporary shelters, water buckets, beans, cooking oil, blankets and cash. Third, a list of the hardest hit households was developed, and the most vulnerable who could not rebuild without external support were identified. Overall, 7,500 households and 15,100 individuals benefitted from the response and 20 households were rebuilt.

Lessons Learnt

Climate change is a growing multi-sectoral issue affecting some of the most critical determinants of health and well-being of people and communities we serve. Its effects cannot be ignored and have vast implications on social support programming as well as overall health planning and financing. Therefore, health and welfare organizations should adapt to these changes, and build appropriate collaborative response mechanism.