As an international medical humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams across the world respond daily to both the direct and indirect impacts of climate change and environmental degradation—and their effects on people’s health. This includes deaths and injuries caused by extreme climate events, changing patterns of infectious disease, malnutrition, food insecurity linked to droughts and high temperatures, and the loss of lives and livelihoods when communities experience heavy flooding.
Many of the communities in which MSF provides medical care are disproportionately affected by climate change since conflict, poverty, gender, and lack of access to health care can amplify climate-related risks to health. We also often see the “double injustice” of the climate crisis; those who have contributed the least to causing climate change are the most vulnerable to its effects, and those who are historically responsible for climate change have more resources to adapt.
In a new humanitarian policy brief—produced as part of the annual 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, including in South Sudan, Brazil, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Nigeria. In places like these, we are adapting operations as more and more people are affected by climate change and striving to reduce our own environmental footprint.
Using climate data to anticipate malaria peaks in South Sudan
In South Sudan, malaria is one of the leading causes of childhood mortality. The disease is endemic in the country, and seasonal peaks and outbreaks can be highly variable. This presents a challenge for operational planning and preparedness.
Because of this, 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 health workers early warning of outbreaks.
The project is currently being piloted in Lankien in Jonglei State, where MSF supports several health facilities. If the rollout is successful, MSF and others responding to malaria outbreaks like the South Sudanese ministry of health will be able to forecast health care activities and mobilize resources more effectively.