Toward more responsive and responsible humanitarian action

20 Nov 2023

MSF Policy Brief in 2022 Lancet Countdown Report  

As a medical humanitarian organization, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) witnesses firsthand the impacts of climate change, and how they threaten people’s health.  

In our emergency interventions, we are responding to the direct and indirect impacts of climate change and environmental degradation. This includes deaths and injuries caused by extreme climate events, changing patterns of infectious disease, malnutrition and food insecurity linked to droughts and high temperatures, and loss of lives and livelihoods when communities experience heavy flooding.  

In many of the settings where MSF teams work, we witness that the communities we support are disproportionately affected by climate change. That’s because factors such as conflict, poverty, gender and lack of access to healthcare can amplify climate-related risks to health.  

In a humanitarian brief for the 2022 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change report, MSF staff from a variety of backgrounds bear witness to the impacts of climate change on health in some of the communities in which we work. The brief explains how MSF teams are adapting operations in the context of climate change, and striving to reduce our own environmental footprint. The following are a few snapshots from MSF’s humanitarian brief in the 2022 Lancet Countdown report. To read the full brief, click here

In many of the settings where MSF teams work, we witness that the communities we support are disproportionately affected by climate change. 

Using climate data to anticipate malaria peaks in South Sudan 

In South Sudan, malaria is one of the leading causes of childhood mortality. Malaria is endemic in the country, and seasonal peaks and outbreaks of the disease can be highly variable, which presents a challenge for operational planning and preparedness. 

MSF launched its Malaria Anticipation Project (MAP) in 2021 to better support MSF teams to anticipate and respond to peaks in malaria cases. Predictive models, using routinely collected malaria data and climactic indicators such as rainfall, temperature, humidity and wind speed provide early warning of outbreaks

The project is currently being piloted in Lankien, Jonglei State, where MSF supports several health facilities. If the rollout is successful, MSF and others responding to malaria outbreaks, such as the South Sudanese Ministry of Health, will be able to forecast healthcare activities and mobilize resources more effectively.  

South Sudan floods

Families heading to dry land in Bentiu. 835,000 people have been directly affected by the flooding. © Sean Sutton

Mental health of front-line workers in Brazil

In May and June of 2022, Brazil experienced record-breaking rains, floods and landslides, claiming more than 130 lives, displacing around 40,000 people and wiping away entire neighbourhoods. Climate change played a role in these unprecedented weather events, which took a heavy toll on the health of the community.

Led by local authorities, teams in Brazil mounted a robust humanitarian response. MSF collaborated with communities and found that while many aspects of the crisis were addressed, the mental health needs of healthcare workers and others supporting those affected by the floods had been overlooked. In consequence, MSF implemented a five-week program to offer mental health and psychosocial support to nearly 500 front-line workers.  

Many front-line staff felt unsure of themselves as they responded to this unprecedented situation. Exchanging with MSF psychologists experienced in disaster response validated their concerns and improved their confidence as to what to do next.

Nádia Duarte Marini
Mental health and psychosocial support focal point for Latin America, MSF Brazilian Medical Unit

Solar-powered hospital in Sierra Leone  

In Sierra Leone, one of the countries with the highest burdens of maternal and child mortality, the loss of many healthcare workers during the 2014 Ebola outbreak created significant gaps in healthcare for rural and remote communities in Kenema District. 

MSF’s 182-bed hospital in the district runs on a hybrid electric system of solar energy and diesel generators. We are already using solar energy in three MSF-supported hospitals in remote areas of Democratic Republic of Congo. MSF’s experience demonstrates that even in remote places with limited infrastructure, a shift to more environmentally responsible practices is possible, and can avert tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.  

If we managed to shift to 100 per cent solar-powered energy in a hospital in a remote part of DRC, there is no place where we cannot do it. Many communities where we work understand the importance of shifting to more sustainable energy solutions and there is much local expertise to tap into.

Iñaki Goicolea
MSF Energy & HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) team leader

Drought, insecurity and malnutrition in Nigeria 

In northern Nigeria, changing rainfall patterns, higher temperatures, droughts and the drying of the Lake Chad Basin have aggravated food insecurity. Competition for resources, likely linked to climate change among other factors, has led to an increase in violence by armed groups, disrupting livelihoods and pushing people to flee their homes. 

Since the beginning of 2022, MSF teams have witnessed extraordinarily high numbers of children with malnutrition in MSF’s programs located in five states across northwest Nigeria, as well as an alarming nutritional crisis in Borno state in the northeast. MSF is responding to the growing malnutrition crisis in Nigeria with medical programs supporting people in the most-affected regions. 

Nigeria malnutrition

Therapeutic feeding activity carried out by the outreach team in Maiduguri, Borno state, Nigeria. The health promotion team sees an average of 115 patients per day. © MSF/Ehab Zawati

Download the full report 

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