Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Wildfires

How mobile clinics are helping those affected by Canada’s wildfires

BMJ 2023; 382 doi: (Published 25 September 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;382:p2007
  1. Christopher Oseh, freelance journalist
  1. Ottawa
  1. cuoseh{at}

Canada is experiencing what may be its worst wildfires, with the health effects felt as far as the US. Mobile clinics are at the forefront of the response, and could be a more permanent solution. Chris Oseh reports

“They tried everything. I just stood there and told him that I loved him and just to breathe,” said a woman recounting losing her 9 year old son when his asthma was worsened by wildfire smoke in British Columbia, Canada.1

Since January 2023 there have been over 400 wildfires across Canada, which continue as the season turns to autumn. Health authorities say this could be one of the worst years for wildfires in the country’s history, having already forced around 120 000 people to evacuate and leaving about 26 000 unable to return home.2

The fires have spread to provinces like Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec,2 with the smoke reaching New York, Pennsylvania, and some parts of North Carolina in the US. Experts have estimated the air quality in some affected parts of the US to be close to the “hazardous” level of 400 on the air quality index (AQI)—a measure of the health risks from air pollutants.3 Canadian and US public health authorities have sent alerts to citizens to warn them of the health implications of inhaling wildfire smoke.

At the forefront of the disaster are Canada’s mobile health clinics. These are buses kitted out as clinics and staffed by physicians, nurses, and outreach and …

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