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Heat Levels Causing Health Problems

ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada, Dec 7, CMC – A senior climatologist at the Barbados-based Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), says there is a correlation between the increase in temperatures and health problems in the region but that the empirical data is lacking.

Dr. Cedric Van Meerbeeck tells the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that the CIMH has begun gathering data on heat sensation and can now provide a three month forecast of the heat levels for Caribbean countries.

“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. So we decided at CIMH that within the context of the Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum (CariCOF) to start producing some information to raise awareness on heat, to raise awareness of the fact that, yes, we can predict heat sensation.”

He said the CIMH has now developed a system of forecasting heat levels over a three month period.

“Before the hot season comes, we want to know how bad is it going to be this year. Is it going to be worse than last year?”

“2016 was quite a hot year; we hope that next year would be even better. In October for instance, there were some hospitals that really saw that there were more illnesses and discomfort that is related to heat. But will that be the same next year? That is something that we can help forecast. And 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.”

Van Meerbeeck said that the hope is for improved climate data collection and health outcome data collection to be able to confidently provide the health sector with applicable information.

“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.

“We can start the foundational research that looks at: 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.”

“So not only are we going to forecast but we are actually going to have certain triggers beyond which we know that there is danger and we can then advise the population on this danger.”

The CIMH climatologist is hopeful that by the time the season begins next year, there would be enough feedback from the stakeholders to shape the product to their needs.

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