(PRESS RELEASE) – The year 2019 ends a decade of extreme heat. Twenty-four countries in the region have activated alerts due to heatwaves. Forecasts expect these to continue in South America between December 2019, and March 2020, with possible adverse impact on human health.
In view of the heatwaves that affected Australia, Canada, the United States, Europe, India, Pakistan and Japan in 2019, and predictions that this phenomenon will hit various parts of South America, the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is urging countries in the region to be prepared due to the impact that this could have on peoples’ health, including the risk of death. In the past year, 24 countries in the Americas were affected by heatwaves. These include Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, the United States, Honduras, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Uruguay.
Weather forecasts for South America predict heat waves this summer which could increase heat-induced stress, reduce the availability of water, increase the risk of forest fires and the loss of crops. Heatwaves can also cause power cuts, reducing access to cool air, refrigeration and air-conditioning.
Due to the situation, PAHO has developed communication materials to enable members of the public to be prepared, as well as a guide to help countries in the Region formulate contingency plans to address heatwaves. The guide provides recommendations that the health sector and meteorological agencies can implement to prepare for and better respond to this threat, prevent the adverse effects of heatwaves, care for affected people, and save lives.
The guide stresses that heatwave contingency plans should be able to determine the probability and extent of the threat, include alert activation procedures, and ensure the implementation of response in accordance with the level of threat.
Countries should strengthen the epidemiological surveillance of heat-related morbidity and mortality, and improve the capacity of health services (training of staff, improvements in the design of new hospitals, and equipping of existing hospitals in high-risk areas). Local authorities should communicate effectively through the media and other channels about heatwaves that are taking place, as well as about inter-agency responses to these, prevention measures, and self-care.
Some countries have made progress towards improving preparedness against heatwaves in accordance with these recommendations. However, knowledge of the risk is still limited and must be improved, as must country capacity to respond to heatwaves.