Published On: Wed, Dec 7th, 2016

Link between Caribbean heat and health problems

heat-1ST GEORGE’S – The Barbados-based Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) says there is no mistaking the link between the increase in temperatures and health problems in the region and it’s on a mission to find data to support its case.

“How many more illnesses do we see because of heat? And it’s not that the health sector is doubting that there is a relationship, it’s just that there is no centralized database that can put the figures in front of us,” argues senior climatologist at the CIMH Dr Cedric Van MeerBeeck.

Speaking to journalists at the just concluded Caribbean Climate Change Outlook Forum in Grenada, Van MeerBeeck said some hospitals around the region have been reporting an increase in illnesses related to heat and it was worth investigating.

“In October, for instance, there were some hospitals that really saw that there were more illnesses and discomfort related to heat. 2016 was quite a hot year,” he said, disclosing that the CIMH was already gathering data on heat sensation.

According to Van MeerBeeck, the institute had already developed the ability to provide a three-month forecast of the heat levels for Caribbean countries, which he suggested would help countries to be better prepared.

“When you forecast ahead of time, that give you a little bit of more preparation time, which means that perhaps we can reduce the impact of that excess heat.”

The climatologist said the research would examine “if we have so many heat waves, how many excess deaths do we have. How many excess heat strokes do we have . . . and the type of non-communicable diseases can we have. Once we have that we can build an early warning system for it.”

Dr Van MeerBeeck is hopeful that the CIMH can deepen its partnership with health authorities , emphasizing that the institute was not merely seeking to forecast  but “to have certain triggers to give better advice”.

“Climate data we’ve been doing at CIMH for quite a while, and the health sector also has their data. The advantage of the climate data is that it is already centralized [and] the health data is not. So one of the many challenges to get this started is not to say it is a new priority, because that is already accepted in the health sector.”

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