Monday 13 July, 2020

Caribbean warned to prepare for heat waves

The Caribbean is being warned to prepare for heat waves due to the impact that they could have on peoples’ health, including the risk of death.

In a statement, PAHO said it is urging the region to prepare in view of the current heatwaves in Europe and predictions that this phenomenon will hit various parts of the Americas.

"Weather forecasts for North America, Central America and the Caribbean predict heat waves during the summer of 2019. This could increase drought-induced stress, lead to forest fires, and have harmful effects on human health," PAHO said.

PAHO has developed a guide to help countries in the region formulate contingency plans to address heatwaves.

The organisation said this guide provides recommendations that the health sector and meteorological agencies can implement to prepare for and better respond to this threat, promote health, prevent the adverse effects of heatwaves, treat affected people, and save lives. 

"The document stresses that heatwave contingency plans should be able to determine the extent of the threat, with alert activation procedures, a description of roles and functions, and intra- and inter-agency coordination mechanisms. The document also highlights that countries should strengthen the epidemiological surveillance of heat-related morbidity and mortality, the capacity of health services (training of staff, improvements in the design of new hospitals, and equipping of existing hospitals in high-risk areas), and enhance the actions of local authorities, the media, and communities in terms of inter-agency response measures, prevention measures, and self-care.'

PAHO said exposure to heat causes severe symptoms such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke (a condition which causes faintness, as well as dry, warm skin, due to the inability of the body to control high temperatures).

The statement said the majority of heat-related deaths are due to the worsening of cardiopulmonary, renal, endocrine and psychiatric conditions. Other symptoms include edema in the lower limbs, heat rash on the neck, cramps, headache, irritability, lethargy and weakness. 

PAHO said people with chronic diseases that take daily medications have a greater risk of complications and death during a heatwave, as do older people and children.

"Reactions to heat depends on each person’s ability to adapt and serious effects can appear suddenly. This is why it is important to pay attention to the alerts and recommendations of local authorities," PAHO said.

Preventing the harmful effects of heat

  • Stay tuned to weather alerts and forecasts.
  • Avoid sun exposure between 11 am and 4 pm.
  • Do not leave children or older persons in parked vehicles
  • Do not exercise or engage in intense outdoor activities without proper protection 
  • Drink water every two hours, even if you aren’t thirsty.
  • Keep the home cool by covering windows during the day and using air conditioners or fans during the hottest hours.
  • If you have a chronic disease and take drugs, consult your doctor.

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