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A Summary: Health Impact of Heatwaves - the Unmet Research Need in Vulnerable Countries

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A Summary: Health Impact of Heatwaves - the Unmet Research Need in Vulnerable Countries

Recent review of more than 180 studies on the health impact of heatwaves published during 1946-2017 reports that there are substantial gaps between the research effort on the health impact of heatwaves and the need of population. It also reports that climate change is one of the biggest global health threats in the 21st century, and one of its imminent impact is the increasing frequency, intensity and duration of heatwaves.

Research on the health impact of heatwaves is important to inform appropriate risk reduction strategies, but populations that are particularly vulnerable tend to have poorer research capacity.

Campbell et al. wish to find out whether the existing research effort on the health impact of heatwaves matches with the need of different population across the globe. They mapped the regional origin of the studies and compared these to the global distribution of population characteristics related to vulnerability to heatwaves, including wealth, population density, acclimatisation capability and physical vulnerability.

 

What Did the Researchers Find?

Most of the studies found were conducted in North America and southern Europe, followed by China and Australia, while there are very few studies covering South America, Africa, Middle-East and Eastern Europe, where most vulnerable populations are. These populations are characterised by poverty, high population density, and higher risk of heatwaves due to geography and meteorological factors.

Most studies investigated the impact of heatwaves on risk of death but not non-fatal outcomes (e.g. ambulance use and hospital admission), because of the lack of reliable data.

Multiple studies across different geographical areas found increased rate of ambulance utility, hospitalisation or death during heatwave events.

Some studies also found that socio-economically disadvantaged sub-population (e.g. ethnic minority, socially isolated) were particularly vulnerable to the health impact of heatwaves.

 

What Does it Mean?

The mismatch of research effort and vulnerability reflects the challenges in conducting heatwave research in vulnerable populations, where reliable environmental and health data are of low-quality or does not exist, research capacity is low, and limited resources are available to mitigate the impact of heatwaves.

There is a general lack of data on non-fatal health outcomes, such as ambulance use and hospital admission, even though these non-fatal outcomes are more sensitive to the impact of heatwaves.

 

The Way Forward

We need greater effort and resources to improve the research capacity and availability of relevant data in vulnerable populations, and to increase representation from across South America, Africa, Eastern Europe, Middle East and countries in parts of Asia. More research on non-fatal outcomes is needed to understand the full effect of heatwaves.

Altogether, these are crucial to improve the preparedness of vulnerable populations in facing more frequent and severe heatwaves in the future. 

 

 

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This article is summarised from: Campbell S, Remenyi TA, White CJ, Johnston FH. Heatwave and health impact research: A global review. Health & place. 2018 Sep 1;53:210-8.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1353829218301205