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Heatwave Challenges in KP: Hospitals Strive Amidst Rising Cases

Each day, dozens of individuals seek emergency care, with their conditions exacerbated by the relentless heat.

by TNN Editor - 23 Aug, 2023 1511

Iftikhar Khan

The province's largest public hospital's emergency department, equipped with an 11-bed short-stay unit, is currently overwhelmed with more than 40 patients. A situation where 2 or 3 patients share each bed, undergoing treatment while seated or lying down on stands intended for attendants. The majority among them are heatwave or heatstroke sufferers receiving intravenous drips.

Among these individuals is Amanullah, 25 years old, who finds no space on beds or stands. He stands as he receives his drip, engaged in conversation with a friend accompanying him. I intervened, inquiring about his health. Amanullah disclosed that he's been struggling due to the heat for the past three days. Employed as a cook in a local Peshawar hotel, he spends 6 to 8 hours daily in front of a blazing stove. The ordeal began with headaches and eye pain two days ago, followed by worsened symptoms including stomach upset, compelling him to seek hospital care.

Adjacent to Amanullah, Ahmed, a 22-year-old auto mechanic, sat on a bed, also grappling with heatstroke. His job predominantly involves toiling under the sun. Overwhelmed by sudden dizziness and nausea, he found himself rushed to the hospital for treatment.

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The incident unfolded on August 22 within the emergency unit of Lady Reading Hospital, coinciding with an external temperature of 40 degrees Celsius. The human body perceived it as 47-48 degrees Celsius due to the elevated humidity of the air. Simultaneously, the province's highest recorded temperature of 43 degrees Celsius was noted in the Bannu district.

According to the Meteorological Department, heat intensity has resurged across the plains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including Peshawar, over the past four to five days. The climate in Peshawar displayed a humidity level above 60% on Tuesday, amplifying the perception of heat intensity.

The hospital's administration, managing the largest healthcare facility in the province, stated that the influx of heat-related patients, particularly those suffering from heatwaves, has escalated over the past week. Each day, dozens of individuals seek emergency care, with their conditions exacerbated by the relentless heat.

Pakistan has experienced severe repercussions of climate change over the past two decades, finding itself among the nations most adversely affected. The country grapples with a range of climatic challenges including floods, glacier melt, irregular rainfall, droughts, and the escalating impact of heatwaves.

Recently, the global human rights organization Amnesty International issued a compelling appeal to the international community, stressing the urgent need for substantial measures to safeguard Pakistan from these extreme conditions.

The report titled "Burning Emergency: Extreme Heat Wave and the Right to Health in Pakistan" highlights the vulnerability of Pakistan's population to extreme heat, particularly those engaging in arduous work within agriculture, brick kilns, and under the open sky. Distressingly, approximately 40 million individuals lack access to electricity in the country, rendering them unable to operate fans, air-conditioners, or install solar panels to mitigate the heat due to financial constraints.

Amnesty International implored affluent and developed nations to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and offer financial assistance to economically disadvantaged countries like Pakistan, aiding their efforts to combat the effects of climate change.

Dr. Atta Muhammad, overseeing the medical ward at Lady Reading Hospital, echoed the sentiments of the Amnesty International report. He underlined that the impact of the heatwave disproportionately targets economically marginalized segments of society. A significant portion of patients admitted to the hospital are individuals who toil outdoors or lack even basic necessities like access to electricity.

In a conversation with TNN, Dr. Atta Muhammad emphasized that heatstroke affects people across genders and ages. However, the elderly, children, pregnant women, and individuals battling various medical conditions are particularly susceptible to its adverse effects.

The physician explained that heat has three distinct effects on individuals who are impacted.

Heat Cramps: Among its symptoms, pain manifests in various body parts exposed to heat.

Heat Exhaustion: This leads to bodily dehydration due to excessive perspiration. Dizziness, nausea, and diarrhea might also be experienced. Immediate medical consultation is advisable for such patients.

Heat Stroke: In this condition, the human body struggles to regulate its internal temperature, posing a serious risk to the patient's well-being.

During high temperatures, the human body relies on sweating to maintain its temperature within the range of 36.5 to 37 degrees Celsius. However, when excessive heat triggers significant fluid loss through sweat, the body's cooling mechanisms falter. As a result, internal body temperature rises in tandem with external conditions. In such cases, patients may encounter unconsciousness, semi-conscious states, severe hypotension, vomiting, diarrhea, and weakened nervous system responses. Hospitalization is imperative for proper treatment.

Dr. Atta Muhammad noted that he has consistently observed a yearly rise in heatstroke cases during this season. This trend serves as evidence that our global climate has markedly warmed. While global warming impacts the entire world, its consequences are disproportionately borne by impoverished nations like ours.

This summer, much like other regions across the country, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has faced multiple heatwaves, the most perilous of which spanned from June 20 to June 26. During this period, the plains experienced temperatures as high as 44 degrees Celsius, as reported by the Meteorological Department's data.

Naheed Jehangir, the assistant media manager of Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar, assured that the hospital is effectively managing the recent heatwave situation and providing attentive care to admitted patients.

Jehangir also recounted the June 24 and 25 heatwave as the most severe she has witnessed in her life. During those days, the hospital received a substantial influx of heat-affected patients, numbering in the hundreds. Among them, 60 individuals were directed to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), while the remaining were allocated to various wards.

As reported by the assistant media manager, six patients who were admitted to the hospital due to heatstroke sadly passed away within those two days.

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In accordance with medical advice, dedicated efforts are undertaken to maintain a cooling environment for these patients. To achieve this, substantial blocks of ice are placed within the intensive care unit. Jehangir shared, "At one point, we faced a scarcity of ice in the market. Subsequently, we made public announcements urging individuals to kindly bring ice to the hospital if they had access."

Throughout June, the mentioned heatwave also inundated other hospitals across the province with similar cases. Citing authoritative sources from the health department, it was revealed that 18 deaths occurred at Mardan Medical Complex, and 26 at Lady Reading Hospital, during June's heatwave.

However, this information was initially concealed by the government. After confirmation of the deaths by Mardan Medical Complex's management, the news was subsequently covered by the media. Yet, the hospital management later discredited the news, deeming it baseless.