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This paper presents findings from a systematic review of the literature (2005–2017) on palliative care in humanitarian crises (e.g., disasters, armed conflicts, epidemics). This review set out to describe palliative care needs, practices, barriers, and recommendations in humanitarian crisis settings. It contributes to current discussions within the field of humanitarian healthcare aimed at clarifying whether or not and how best to respond to palliative care needs in humanitarian crises.

Analysis of 95 peer-reviewed and gray literature documents reveal a scarcity of data on palliative care needs and interventions provided in crises, challenges of care provision particularly due to inadequate pain relief resources and guidelines, a lack of consensus on the ethics of providing or limiting palliative care as part of humanitarian healthcare response, and the importance of contextually appropriate care. These findings suggest that more research and open discussion on palliative care in humanitarian crises are needed. This review contributes to defining palliative care needs in humanitarian crises, building consensus on humanitarian healthcare organizations’ ethical responsibilities towards individuals and families with palliative needs, and developing realistic and context-appropriate policies and guidelines.

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