How Natural Disaster Response Links to Global Health

Posted on Apr 21, 2020

neighbors clear streets following massive floods in Lima, Peru
Thousands of residents living north of Lima, Peru, were left without clean water or medical care following massive flooding in March 2017.
Photo courtesy of Socios En Salud

Clinicians and staff at Partners In Health see every day how climate change and natural disasters can have direct, devastating impacts on the lives of the most vulnerable around the world.

Severe droughts wither crops, forcing subsistence farmers to worry when, not if, their families will suffer hunger. Increasingly powerful and unpredictable rainy seasons cause flooding and mudslides, which wipe out fragile homes built along hillsides and riverbanks, leaving thousands homeless and scrambling for clean water. And more frequent hurricanes—with their gale-force winds, heavy rains, and tidal surges—multiply the number of hungry and homeless by destroying crops and homes.

At these moments, PIH’s long-term work to strengthen health systems and social support enables global teams to provide immediate relief through food packages, temporary shelters, clean water, and emergency health care at mobile clinics. These efforts help meet residents’ needs in the short-term, but are a small part of what PIH does on a daily basis.

PIH leaders and their government partners focus most of their efforts on building permanent, sustainable solutions that address the root causes of poverty. That work begins with universal access to quality health care, from prenatal appointments for expectant mothers to palliative care for the dying, and from lifesaving surgeries to cancer treatment.

Across 11 countries, PIH is working to build strong public health systems, train the next generation of health care professionals, and inspire global leaders to follow PIH’s example so that more people will benefit when empathy and solidarity join the fruits of modern medicine.

Below, and in honor of Earth Day, find examples of how PIH has responded in moments of climate crisis to ensure the most vulnerable have access to the care they need, and deserve:

patients are transferred to a dry facility following Hurricane Matthew in Haiti
Patients are moved to higher ground after torrential rains flooded the courtyard of a hospital in Les Cayes, two weeks after Hurricane Matthew crushed already fragile communities in southern Haiti. Photo courtesy of Hospital of the Immaculate Conception

Hurricane Matthew in Haiti

Zanmi Lasante, as PIH is known in Haiti, partnered with the Ministry of Public Health and Population to respond to Hurricane Matthew in the fall of 2016 by assisting with cholera prevention and response, mental health care, and aid for colleagues who had lost their homes, crops, and livestock across southern Haiti.

Floods in Peru

Socios En Salud, as PIH is known in Peru, sent at least 50 medical brigades throughout Carabayllo District, north of Lima, to deliver emergency aid and medication, distribute baskets of food, and tend to the mental health needs of flood victims in the spring of 2017.

Mudslides in Sierra Leone

In the fall of 2017, PIH in Sierra Leone partnered with the Ministry of Health to conduct a record-breaking cholera vaccination campaign that delivered two doses of oral vaccine to 500,000 people living throughout Freetown, the nation’s capital, following heavy rains and landslides that left residents susceptible to the deadly, bacterial disease.

Earthquakes in Mexico 

Leadership and staff at Compañeros En Salud, as PIH is known in Mexico, mobilized across 10 communities in rural Chiapas to assess damage from two earthquakes in the fall of 2017, helping residents clear roads, find temporary housing, and connect with care in the midst of the crisis.

Floods in Malawi 

Abwenzi Pa Za Umoyo, as PIH is known in Malawi, partnered with local and national governments to bring emergency relief to residents following particularly devastating rains and floods in the spring of 2019, delivering food, financial support, and temporary shelter to those affected.