New Report: “Dying alone is hard anywhere in the world” – palliative care in natural disaster response

READ THE FULL REPORT: Natural Disasters – Report and Recommendations

In response to the emerging recognition of the need for palliative care, the Humanitarian Health Ethics Research Group undertook a program of research in order to understand the ethical dimensions of palliative care during humanitarian action. Here, we present key findings of the sub-study focused on natural disaster settings that was part of this larger program of research. Through this series of reports, we hope to present the perspectives of those engaged in humanitarian healthcare firsthand – as patients, host community members, policymakers, and local and international healthcare providers – in order to clarify how humanitarian organizations and humanitarian healthcare providers might best support ethically and contextually-appropriate palliative care in a range of humanitarian crises.


  1. Participants described palliative care as a key component of comprehensive humanitarian healthcare involving companionship and psychosocial support for patients and their families, dignity in death and dying, and the management of pain and other distressing symptoms.
  2. Barriers to the provision of palliative care in natural disaster settings included damage to health structures; inadequate resources; disrupted supply chains; the invisibility of patients with palliative needs; differences in local cultural norms; the prioritization of acute needs; and challenges of mobility and access to care.
  3. Despite existing limitations, respondents agreed that humanitarian aid organizations have an ethical obligation to provide palliative care.
  4. Integration of palliative care may play a role in alleviating distress among disaster responders, particularly those from affected communities.
  5. Participants emphasized that palliative care must be integrated into disaster planning from the beginning; otherwise, it is likely to be neglected during a crisis.
  6. There was a clear consensus concerning the need for palliative care training and protocols to guide practice in natural disaster settings.

Suggested citation: Amir, T., Yantzi, R., de Laat, S., Bernard, C., Elit, L., Schuster-Wallace, C., Redwood Campbell, L., Hunt, M. & Schwartz, L. (2020). “Dying alone is hard anywhere in the world”: Palliative care in natural disaster response. Isis A. Harvey designer. Available online at

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