The director of the regional office for Europe of the World Health Organization (WHO), Hans Kluge, said this Friday, 22 July, that in Spain and Portugal more than 1,700 people have already died this year as a result of the heatwave.
"Unprecedented. Alarming. Apocalyptic. These are just some of the adjectives being used in the news, as large parts of the WHO European Region suffer ferocious forest fires and record temperatures in the midst of an ongoing and prolonged heatwave. Climate change is not new. Its consequences, however, are increasing season after season, year after year, with disastrous results," Kluge said.
The WHO European leader said that exposure to extreme heat often exacerbates pre-existing health conditions, and that heat stroke and other severe forms of hyperthermia (abnormally high body temperature) cause suffering and premature death, especially in infants, children and the elderly. The WHO European region has developed guidance to help countries prepare for extreme heat events which has been shown to save lives.
"The WHO's guidance and heat-health action plans provide practical advice for the public and medical professionals on how to respond to heatwaves, as well as advice for those caring for patients and people in hospitals and other care facilities, including nursing homes," Kluge said.
Kluge stressed the importance of avoiding the heat "as much as possible"; not leaving children and animals in parked vehicles; drinking fluids; wearing light, loose-fitting clothing; taking cool showers or baths; avoiding heat, caffeine and sugary drinks; keeping homes cool by closing blinds and windows during the day; and seeking medical attention if you have a chronic illness or take medication.
The director of the WHO's Regional Office for Europe has warned that the heat events of recent weeks point once again to the "desperate" need for pan-European action to effectively address climate change, which he stressed os the overarching crisis of our time that threatens both individual health and the very existence of humanity.
For this to happen, Kluge said that governments must demonstrate political will and genuine leadership in implementing the global Paris Agreement on climate change, with collaboration replacing division and empty rhetoric.
"WHO/Europe member states have already shown that they can work together on urgent global health threats. It is time for us to do so again, working across ministerial and national boundaries to address the root causes of climate change, making wise and far-reaching decisions for the common good," Kluge said.