Bad Climate: An Illustrated Guide To Kiribati’s Ongoing Fight For Survival


Earlier this year, Swiss cartoonist Felix Schaad accompanied Australian staff from Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to Kiribati, to learn more about the island nation’s epic battle to survive the growing impacts of climate change.

Schaad met with community members, political leaders, advocates and MSF team members during his trip, and documented it with a unique ‘cartoon feature’ about climate, health and environmental challenges Kiribati is confronting.

Notes on Kiribati and MSF

MSF has been present in Kiribati since mid 2022. An MSF paediatrician, obstetrician, midwife and paediatric nurse are working alongside i-Kiribati staff to ensure care can be given to patients in Kiribati’s main hospital and support the Ministry of Health staff. An MSF team has also worked on some of the outer islands training government health staff to improve neonatal care and screening for women with high-risk pregnancies.

This region of the Pacific has its own unique and compelling challenges. Kiribati is one of the most remote and geographically dispersed countries in the world. It is also one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of the climate crisis. Threats to human and environmental health include air and sea temperature rises; storm surges and high winds; erosion, ocean acidification, droughts and flooding, malnutrition, and increased disease outbreaks.

The country faces what the World Health Organization has described as a triple threat to health: communicable diseases, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the health impacts of climate change. Kiribati’s health burden is complex. The prevalence of communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and leprosy are some of the highest in the Pacific; it faces a non-communicable disease crisis with the second highest rates, among low-middle income countries, of premature deaths due to type-two diabetes; and infant mortality rates are ranked some of the highest in the region.

In June 2022, the government declared a state of emergency because of prolonged drought. Food and water insecurity are an ongoing problem for the community. Kiribati people have high rates of obesity, but conversely the MSF team has been finding more and more malnourished small children.

Kiribati’s size and its remoteness impact its ability to provide comprehensive health care. One of its biggest obstacles is a lack of qualified medical personnel. Kiribati lost 30 of its most experienced nurses to labour mobility schemes in Australia and NZ over the last 12 months, and many of its doctors migrate to other countries for professional opportunities. MSF’s paediatrician is currently the most senior paediatric doctor in the whole country.

You can find out more about MSF’s work in Kiribati here.

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