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Extreme heat straining health systems: WHO

The extreme heat in the northern hemisphere is putting an increasing strain on healthcare systems.

City planners need to ensure people have places to shelter in times of extreme heat, said the WHO's Maria Neira - Copyright UGC/AFP Abidine Badi
City planners need to ensure people have places to shelter in times of extreme heat, said the WHO's Maria Neira - Copyright UGC/AFP Abidine Badi

The extreme heat in the northern hemisphere is putting an increasing strain on healthcare systems, hitting those least able to cope the hardest, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

The WHO said the heat often worsens pre-existing conditions, saying it was particularly concerned about those with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and asthma.

Millions of people across three continents are enduring a sustained spell of dangerous heat on Wednesday as temperature records tumble.

“Extreme heat takes the greatest toll on those least able to manage its consequences, such as older people, infants and children, and the poor and homeless,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“It also puts increased pressure on health systems,” he told a news conference.

“Exposure to excessive heat has wide-ranging impacts for health, often amplifying pre-existing conditions and resulting in premature death and disability.”

People cooled off in fountains in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, — © AFP

The WHO was working with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), its fellow Geneva-based UN agency, to support countries in developing hot-weather action plans to coordinate preparedness and reduce the impacts of excessive heat on health, he added.

– Finding those at risk –

Maria Neira, the WHO’s public health and environment chief, said the agency was particularly concerned about pregnant women and people with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, and asthma, as air pollution would be part of the problem.

Local and national governments needed to identify all those potentially at risk, while hospitals should ensure they had an action plan in place, she added.

With an extreme heat wave in the forecast, everyone needs to find a water hole.
Source – Des Colhoun, CC SA 2.0.

Neira also said communities needed to get the message out on avoiding sport during the hottest part of the day, finding a cool place indoors, looking out for the vulnerable, and being aware of heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

Experts have blamed the heatwaves on climate change, driven by the burning of fossil fuels releasing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Besides immediate measures to cope with the heat in the coming days, Neira said that in the longer term, countries needed to decarbonise to mitigate the causes of climate change, which is “exacerbating and increasing the frequency, the intensity and the duration of those heatwaves.

“That will be helping us to reduce the heatwaves in a very important way.”

Bangladesh is in the midst of its longest heatwave in decades, with power cuts making matters even worse

Bangladesh is in the midst of its longest heatwave in decades, with power cuts making matters even worse – Copyright AFP Munir uz zaman

City officials needed to think through their urban planning to ensure people had refuges in times of extreme heat, she added.

The UN’s WMO weather agency has said repeated high overnight temperatures are a particular health risk because the body is unable to recover from hot days, leading to more heart attacks and deaths.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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