Research project on heatwave initiated

KARACHI: Public health experts at universities, hospitals and non-government organisations in the metropolis have launched a collaborative research project, HEAT, to evaluate ways to reduce deaths caused by extreme heat exposure (temperatures over 37-degree centigrade).

HEAT (Heat Emergency Awareness and Treatment) will see researchers from Aga Khan University, Johns Hopkins University, the World Health Organisation and the Aman Foundation come together to test whether novel community-based and hospital-specific interventions can prevent fatalities attributed to heatstroke and heat exhaustion.

Researchers from the four organisations have jointly developed the research study designed to generate knowledge through two interventions, comprising a community-based programme among 16,000 people living in a low-income locality in Korangi, in eastern Karachi and a clinical intervention in major hospitals scattered around the metropolis.

In HEAT’s community-based arm of the project, researchers will use Aman Foundation’s operations and infrastructure in Korangi to disseminate health education messages through community leaders, bulk text messages, telehealth systems and special information sessions in schools and mosques.

Health awareness and evidence-based strategies represent a vital step in tackling extreme heat (EH) related illnesses caused by heat waves, said Dr Nadeemullah Khan, an associate professor of emergency medicine at AKU.

The project comes in the wake of the blistering heatwave in Karachi in June 2015 which triggered a healthcare emergency as extreme temperatures over a five-day period led to record hospital admissions and resulted in hundreds of preventable deaths.

Inadequate awareness about early signs of EH conditions in 2015 prevented people from implementing simple, yet effective preventive measures against heat exposure at home.

The influx of patients with advanced symptoms was registered to arrive at hospitals, where already overwhelmed emergency room (ER) doctors lacked a precise protocol to treat these illnesses.

Dr Khan emphasised that EH diseases need special attention as besides being life-threatening themselves, they can also increase the danger posed by cardiopulmonary (heart and lung) and cerebrovascular diseases like stroke, which are common in South Asian countries.

“Our intervention aims to tackle heat exposure at the earliest stages through a range of preventive measures. Lower hospital admissions mean that doctors trained under HEAT can focus on treating the most severe cases of heat exposure,” he said.

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