Health fears as heatwave bakes southern region: Experts warn of heat stroke, high blood pressure attacks
Nqobile Tshili, [email protected]
HEALTH experts have warned of life-threatening illnesses including heat stroke due to the extreme temperatures being recorded in most parts of the country recently, as they urged members of the public to stay hydrated among other precautionary measures.
Medical experts have said drinking alcoholic beverages, caffeinated and sugary drinks is also discouraged as it contributes to dehydration.
Temperatures have been steadily increasing in most parts of the country with rains remaining elusive, dampening prospects for farmers amid depleting pastures for livestock and drying dams, especially in the southern region.
The dry spell, a reflection of the El Nino weather conditions where below normal to normal rainfalls were predicted for the 2023/24 rainy season, has created anxiety among the farmers and the public alike, causing drought fears.
Environmental experts have linked adverse weather patterns to greenhouse gas-induced climate change, which results in extreme weather patterns, including droughts. The conditions are, however, expected to remain changing and unpredictable until more rains are received.
In an interview yesterday, Bulawayo City Council health services director, Dr Edwin Sibanda-Mzingwane said members of the public should by all means avoid being exposed to direct sunlight as it may increase their dehydration levels.
“People should drink a lot of water to avoid dehydration, which may result in blood pressure-related illnesses. When you are dehydrated it means you will not have enough water in the body, leaving the body largely with salt causing blood pressure,” said Dr Sibanda-Mzingwane.
He said the public can evaluate their hydration levels by checking the colour of their urine while taking prescribed precautionary measures. If the urine is darker and more concentrated, it means the individual is highly dehydrated.
“So, instead of trying to measure the number of litres you drank, just check the colour of your urine,” said Dr Sibanda-Mzingwane.
Another medical health expert, Dr Misheck Ruwende, said the effects of the heat could be mild to severe.
“The implications can be as mild as just headaches and I’m sure a lot of people are having headaches due to this weather,” he said.
“You can have heat rash, heat burn going up heat cramps. You can also experience life-threatening ones for example heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
“So, we encourage people to drink water as much as possible. They should avoid alcohol, caffeine, and sugary drinks because those types of drinks make us lose water. We have to be as hydrated as possible,” said Dr Ruwende.
He said motorists should avoid leaving the vulnerable and pets in a closed car as the heat can cause their deaths.
“The public should avoid leaving children, the elderly, and pets in the cars because the car can quickly heat up even if the windows can be slightly opened.
“You might have heard of children who died after being left in the car. That is a big problem and it can easily happen and we must never leave the elderly and minors in cars,” said Dr Ruwende.
“The people who are at higher risk and the elderly, people suffering from asthma and heart diseases. Their symptoms can be exacerbated by the heat and they have to stay away from heat as much as they can.”
He said the public should plan their outdoor activities in the morning and evening when the temperatures have reduced.
Members of the public have also been encouraged to eat vegetables including watermelons, which is 92 percent equivalent to water. Dr Ruwende said some of the vegetables to be consumed include cucumbers, peaches, and lettuce.
The high temperatures have resulted in some individuals claiming that some villagers in Matobo and Binga districts had collapsed and died due to the heatwave. However, the reports have been dismissed as fake.
Meanwhile, the Meteorological Service Department (MSD) has said over the past few days there have been clear skies as opposed to clouds and this is what has caused the heat wave.
MSD head of forecasting Mr James Ngoma said transient clouds have been developing in the country showing that the country is moving from less rain to improved rainfalls.
He said while temperatures have been high, they are not extreme.
“So, it’s transient in nature meaning one day it’s very hot and next few days it becomes humid and the next few days it becomes cooler again. It is like a seesaw.
“There is reduced moisture in the atmosphere. There are less clouds that are forming. Clouds during the day make it cooler and if there are no clouds it makes it much hotter,” said Mr Ngoma.
“At a time when the body expects more clouds, the body is getting less clouds.”
He said once the transitional period is completed more rains will be received going forward while high temperatures will be reduced.
Mr Ngoma said starting today low temperatures and rains are expected in most parts of the country.
“There is a system that is coming from Botswana and it should pass over much of the country giving us thunderstorms maybe starting tomorrow (today). As we get into Wednesday, we are expecting cooler winds coming from South Africa and those will cool off those areas in southern areas that have been hot for the past few days,” he said.
“As you get into Thursday, you will be in a totally different environment, you probably will be looking for jerseys.” – @nqotshili