Adelaidean - News from the University of Adelaide The University of Adelaide Australia
December 2008 Issue
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Heatwave threat sparks emergency plan


The University of Adelaide will lead a two-year project to develop a national emergency plan for heatwaves in Australia.

Dr Peng Bi from the University's Discipline of Public Health said rising temperatures in Australia and an increase in the ageing population were expected to result in greater demand on ambulance services, more hospital admissions and emergency department visits
in summer.

"Due to climate change, Australia is experiencing a warming trend, with more hot days and heatwaves. Extreme temperatures are increasingly being recognised as a public health problem and can result in many serious illnesses and even death," he said.

A recent national study forecast that within the next 40 years, Australia would face major temperature changes and a spike in heat-related deaths, with 25% of residents aged over 65 years by 2050.

"The threat of heatwaves in Australia in the 21st century is particularly critical due to Australia's ageing population," Dr Bi said. "Indigenous Australians, non English-speaking people and those with a low socio-economic status or chronic disease will also be at great risk."

Despite the projections, there is currently no systematic national heatwave response plan.

Dr Bi and colleagues from the University of Adelaide and SA Department of Health will identify the most vulnerable groups, coordinate a strategy involving relevant government departments, emergency personnel and community groups, and refine early-warning mechanisms for heatwaves in Australia.

"We will be looking at the factors that influence effective emergency assistance, measures to prevent heat-induced illness and which community groups are most (and least) likely to heed heatwave warnings.

"The different responses within urban, regional and rural populations will also be examined."

Adelaide experienced a record-breaking heatwave in March this year, with 15 consecutive days over 35 degrees, setting a capital city record in Australia.

The $180,000 project is being predominantly funded by an Australian Research Council grant - the third that Dr Bi has won in as many years for his research into heatwave-related health issues.

He is also a chief investigator in two other projects - in Australia and New Zealand - relating to climate change and health, which have received a total of $3.1 million in funding over the next four years.

Story by Candy Gibson

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