Harvard Doc Warns Against Rising Heat Impact On Health, Seeks Govt Intervention - Vibes Of India

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Harvard Doc Warns Against Rising Heat Impact On Health, Seeks Govt Intervention

| Updated: May 25, 2024 14:03

Rising heat, prolonged heatwave conditions and subsequent deaths and other adverse health effects due to it in different parts of India is a rising concern that points towards environment degradation and unscientific development model.

Gaurab Basu, physician and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School believes apart from heat stroke or death heat events can also increase the risks of heart attacks and premature labour or low birth weight for expectant parents

“Almost all working systems in our bodies are affected by severe heat — this is particularly true when extreme heat comes with high humidity.. These episodes are especially dangerous for people who already have underlying health issues like coronary artery disease, diabetes and respiratory illnesses — they, the elderly and children are very vulnerable,” he said.
“Also, the body must cool down at night and reset from compensating to diffuse severe heat through such days — but in this era of climate change, we’re seeing the body unable to rest properly at night. This creates other issues as well like impacted cognitive functioning, depression, anxiety, etc., all correlating at higher rates during heatwaves,” the doctor added.

Basu further said, “At baseline, India is a warm country — so, you could argue people living in India have mostly acclimated to hot temperatures. But when you have these severe heatwaves — often with humidity — our body must compensate from what it is used to. That is a huge challenge. It is critical for our body’s functioning that temperature remains in a very narrow spectrum— our system can’t go up or down too much in temperature without facing consequences.”

“If it’s so hot that your body can’t keep up and release enough heat, it increases inside us and causes heat stress. The most severe version of this is heatstroke — when your body can’t release heat, that causes inflammation within. Our blood vessels open up and enzymes can’t work properly. Our organs start to get damaged and could even fail,” he cautioned.

However, on a brighter note, the doctor said, “Luckily, we can now accurately predict when these heatwaves are coming upon us — it’s key to begin protective preparations early on, decrease heat exposure, drink enough water, rest in cool areas and have someone to call if people don’t feel well. We cannot go about our day-to-day functioning during a heatwave — we must adjust our activities to take care of our body in such conditions.”

Dr Basu also pointed out that India was more vulnerable due to poverty and suggested deeper government engagement in mitigating the impact of extreme heat.

“Many people with fewer resources are most exposed — individuals labouring outdoors, those who don’t have indoor cooling systems and the poorest people face the highest risk of heat exposure. We need policies established to protect them. Awareness is central — India has a very successful community health worker model. Such people can go door-to-door or organise community gatherings to explain the impacts of heat on health. Clinics, community health centres, etc., must offer adequate information. Cities also need increased tree canopies and shade to protect people from heat. Some studies suggest painting rooftops a white shade can help deflect some heat, which is something administrations should explore,” he said.

On a concluding note, the expert said, “Heatwaves are increasing and will continue to intensify — they can cause severe health issues and losses of life. Along with other nations, India should identify climate change as a driver of these increasingly dangerous heatwaves and shun fossil fuels — these are stoking extreme temperatures on the planet.”

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