NEW DELHI: A prolonged heatwave affecting large parts of India has resulted in 143 recorded deaths and 41,789 suspected heatstroke cases between March 1 and June 20 this year, according to Health Ministry sources. The death toll is likely higher as the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has not received updated data from all states, and several health facilities are yet to report the number of heatwave casualties.
Official data indicates that on June 20 alone, there were 14 confirmed heatstroke deaths and nine suspected fatalities, bringing the death toll from March to June up from 114 to 143. Uttar Pradesh has been the most affected state, reporting 35 deaths, followed by Delhi (21), and Bihar and Rajasthan (17 each).
Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda on Thursday instructed officials to visit Central hospitals to confirm that separate arrangements have been made for heatstroke patients and to assess recent death counts due to heat-related illnesses. He also reviewed the national situation and hospitals’ preparedness to address the heatwave’s impact, directing the establishment of special heatwave units in all central government hospitals.
An advisory for the Health Department regarding the ‘Heat Wave Season 2024’ has been issued by the health ministry under the Union Health Minister’s directions.
โ€œThe country may observe above normal seasonal maximum temperatures in-line with the observed trend of summertime temperatures. To reduce health impacts of extreme heat, health departments must ensure preparedness and timely response,โ€ the ministry stated.
The advisory tasked state nodal officers under the National Programme for Climate Change and Human Health (NPCCHH) with the daily submission of heatstroke cases and death data from March 1, along with reporting under the Heat-Related Illness and Death Surveillance.
States have been asked to maintain a digital list of heatstroke cases and deaths (both suspected and confirmed) at the health facility or hospital level in specified formats and to ensure the dissemination of the National Action Plan on Heat Related Illnesses (HRI) to all districts, with a focus on strengthening health systems preparedness for HRI.
The importance of disseminating early warnings of heatwaves issued by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) was emphasized, with a directive to share forecasts for the next four days with health facilities and vulnerable populations.
The advisory also called for health facility preparedness for the prevention and management of severe HRI and the procurement of adequate quantities of ORS packs, essential medicines, IV fluids, ice packs, and equipment necessary for managing volume depletion and electrolyte imbalance.
The availability of sufficient drinking water at all health facilities was emphasized, as well as providing general cooling appliances in waiting and patient treatment areas. It was stressed that suspected heatstroke cases should be rapidly assessed and actively cooled using standard treatment protocols.
“Coordinate with electricity distribution company/corporation for uninterrupted electricity supply to hospitals for constant functioning of cooling appliances. Adopt measures to reduce indoor heat and energy conservation in health facilities like cool roof/green roof, window shading, rainwater harvesting, solarization etc. Provide shade outside the health facilities in heat-prone regions,” the advisory elaborated.
Health Ministry officials have been urged to ensure all hospitals are prepared to provide the best healthcare to those affected, highlighting the federal commitment to managing the impact of severe heat. Additionally, preparations for sustained high temperatures are underway with an emphasis on early warnings and adequate resource provisioning.
The sweltering conditions in northern and eastern India continue to increase the number of heatstroke casualties, invoking serious nationwide measures to mitigate the risks and provide timely medical response to affected individuals. The Centers for Disease Control and hospitals at the local level have been placed on high alert with set protocols to handle the ongoing health crisis.
More comprehensive data collection and reporting are expected to provide a clearer picture of the health impacts of this protracted heatwave, as states compile and submit updated figures on casualties and medical cases related to extreme heat. This periodical assessment aims to fortify health systems and streamline response efforts amidst escalating temperatures.