By Duncan Mlanjira
In the past few days, Chikwawa District Hospital is reported to have received a number of adult cases who presented with clinical features that are usually associated with heat exhaustion and that the district also had four reported deaths.
But while the District Council is acknowledging that the high temperatures that hit the area might have contributed to the deaths, investigation is underway to establish exact cause of the deaths.
“There has been four reported deaths in the district, some of these cases had other preexisting medical conditions. Some of them were brought in dead.
“Meanwhile, we are encouraging the general public to continue adhering to the safety messages on the communication released by Secretary for Health in the Ministry of Health and Population on October 29, 2019,” said a communique by Dr. Stalin Zinkanda Director of Health and Social Services at Chikwawa District Council.
Chikwawa is one of the 15 disaster prone districts in Malawi with a population of about 601,000 people.
On October 28, the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services issued a five day weather forecast for the country that came after an alert from Southern Africa DevelopmentCommunity Climate Services Centre (SADC-CSC).
The forecast predicted occasions where temperatures would have high probability to exceed 40°C, this reaching the threshold for heat wave alert.
Malawi was classified as one of the Warning Zone countries with parts of of the Southern Region registering temperatures as high as 44°C.
This prompted the Ministry of Health and Population (MoH) to issue safety measures for the public to follow.
MoH advises the public to keep their living space cool and to keep checking the room temperature between 8-10am and from 13hrs up to 22hrs.
“Ideally, the room temperature should be kept below 32°C during the day and 24° C during night.
“This is especially important for infants or people who are of 60 years of age or have chronic health conditions.
“Use the night air to cool down your home. Open windows and shutters during the night and the early morning when the outside temperature is lower (if safe to do so).
“Reduce the heat load inside the home. Close windows and shutters of those facing the sun during the day.
“Turn off artificial lighting and as many electrical devices as possible and hang shades, draperies, awnings or louvers on window that receive morning or afternoon sun.
“Hang wet towels to cool down the room air. Note that the humidity of the air increases at the same time.
“If your residence is air conditioned, close the doors and windows and conserve electricity not needed to keep you cool and ensure that power remains available to reduce the chance of a community-wide outage.
“Electric fans may provide relief, but when the temperature is above 35° C, they may not prevent heat related-illness and it is important to drink fluids.”
MoH continues to advise people to keep out of the heat and to move to the coolest part of the room in the home, especially at night.
“If it is not possible to keep your home cool, spend 2-3 hours of the day in a cool place, such as an air conditioned public building.
“Avoid going outside during the hottest time of the day and avoid strenuous physical activity if you can.
“If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4am and 7pm.”
MoH is also advising schools to adjust starting and ending time for lessons to avoid peak hours of hotness and/or to utilize shades or open fresh air lessons where possible.
“Where possible working shifts should be adjusted to shorter working hours. Do not leave children or animals in parked vehicles.”
In order to keep the body cool and hydrated, MoH says people should take cold showers or baths and alternatives should include cold packs towels, sponging and foot baths.
“When outside, wear wear light and loose-fitting clothes of natural materials and wide-brimmed hats or caps and sunglasses.
“Use light bed linen and sheets and no cushions to avoid heat accumulation.
“Drink fluids regularly, but avoid alcohol and too much caffeine and sugar.”
It also asks the public to keep constant check on family, friends, and neighbours who spend time alone.
“Vulnerable people (such as persons with disabilities) might need assistance on hot days. Discuss extreme heat-waves with your family.
“Everyone should know what to do in the places where they spend most of the time and if you know anyone who is at risk, help him or her to get advice and support.
“Elderly or sick people living alone should be visited at least daily. If a person is taking medication, ask the treating doctor how it can influence thermoregulation and the fluid balance.
“If to have a health problem, keep medicines at a cool place (below 25°C) or in the refrigerator and read the storage instructions on the packaging.
“Seek medical advice from your nearest health facility or health worker if you are suffering from a chronic medical condition or taking multiple medications.
“Try to get help if you feel dizzy, weak, anxious or have intense thirst and headache and move to a cool place as soon as possible and measure your body temperature.
“Drink some water or fruit juice to rehydrate,” says the statement released by Dr Dan Namarika, Secretary for Health and Population.
The SADC-CSC also warned it member countries of persistent high temperatures in the range of 30°C to 35°C in central.
It says maximum temperatures reaching the heat wave thresholds are expected in central parts of SADC Region where it is expected
to experience temperatures above 35°C over a consecutive period of three days and occasions where temperatures have a high probability to exceed 40°C.
“Extreme south-eastern Angola, north and eastern most parts of Botswana, eastern half of Eswatini, south-western parts of Madagascar, southern Malawi, most of Mozambique, extreme north eastern Namibia, eastern fringes of South Africa, south and eastern Zambia, northern fringes and southern half of Zimbabwe will have a high probability to experience a heatwave during the period of 25 to 31 October 2019.
“Most of the central parts of the SADC region stretching from southern Angola through eastern Namibia, Botswana, most of Zambia, Zimbabwe, southern Malawi to northern Mozambique and southern Tanzania are in a Heatwave Watch category.
Western Madagascar is also in a Heatwave Watch category for a potential heat wave during the forecast period of 25 to 31 October 2019.
For parts of the region where there is a high probability for a heat-wave to be experienced, there is need to adhere to all the health advisories provided by local institutions in member states.
“Precautions are advised in these areas to avoid heat related health problems, such as heat stroke amongst others.
“Users are encouraged to consult the National Meteorological and Hydrometeorological Services (NMHSs) in the SADC member states interpretation and the relevant national institutions.
“The next advisory will be issued dependant on a sustained high temperature forecast expected to occur in more than a single SADC member state,” says the statement released by SADC Secretariat’s Climate Services Centre in Gaborone, Botswana.
Meanwhile, a weather update in Pakistan alerts people that due to increase in temperature in the coming days, motorists should not fill petrol to the maximum limit.
“Please fill the tank about half and allow for air,” says the alert.