Global warming is causing extreme heat events resulting in increased morbidity and mortality in locations unaccustomed to this phenomenon. It is well known that episodes of extreme temperature have significant impacts on health and, hence, have the potential to overwhelm health systems. Evidence shows how the increase in global temperature has affected the health of the population (1, 2) , especially in urban areas due to the “urban heat island” effect, which reduces development and access to mitigating factors such as urban vegetation (3). Another factor to be taken into account is the consequences this has on power grids, and the impacts power blackouts have on patients at home or at hospital, as they both are sealed buildings and loss of power can result in a rise in temperatures during a heat wave. Likewise, this phenomenon unevenly affects demography depending on the vulnerability of the population to extreme heat (4, 5).
One way of addressing this challenge would be to build on the concept of resilience, by developing strategies and methods to assess climate-specific risks and the hazard vulnerability of the population, and to facilitate the protection of infrastructure and communities (6). Understanding heat vulnerability allows systems to better target funding towards the development of community benefit projects to mitigate the effects of extreme heat. The latter would provide an opportunity for the prevention of the adverse impacts of heat, in which health systems have an important role to play.
Exposure to extreme heat is associated with an increase number of emergency department visits for mental health disorders, self-injuries, homicides or suicides, which means clinical care and services delivery planning must ensure health care providers are appropriately trained to recognise and manage heat illness. An interesting proposal for consideration would be to involve other organisations and collectives such as the educational sector, and join widespread efforts to accelerate health professional preparedness by including a basic understanding of the health impacts of climate change on curricular requirements.
Hence, considering the fact that the climate crisis is getting worse, extreme heat events will take a greater toll on human health, to the extent that extreme temperatures are increasingly being recognised as phenomena that need more attention and more coordinated responses to improve health systems’ alerts and activation protocols.
Amor Escoz Roldán.
Senior Environmental Health Technician,
Environmental Science Specialist, Environmental Educator and PhD in Education Sciences