This week, WHO/Europe launches its 2021 #KeepCool campaign, helping advise communities and decision-makers on ways to stay healthy in the heat and adapt for increased temperatures in the future.
As the weather is getting warmer, most people are looking forward to the arrival of summer. For some people, however, higher temperatures and potential heat-waves can pose a health threat.
Heat stress is the leading cause of weather-related death. It can exacerbate underlying illnesses including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, psychological distress and asthma, and increase the risk of accidents and infectious diseases.
With a little preparation and understanding of the risks, we can largely prevent the adverse health effects of hot weather by adopting good public health practices while also following official advice to protect against COVID-19.
2020 was one of the warmest years on record
Globally, the year 2020 was among the 3 warmest on record, and the World Meteorological Organization concurs that 2011–2020 was the warmest decade on record. The annual global temperature forecast for 2021 suggests that this year will also enter the series of the Earth’s hottest years, despite being influenced by the temporary cooling of the La Niña climate pattern.
The number of people exposed to extreme heat is growing exponentially due to climate change in all world regions. Globally, heat-related mortality in people older than 65 years has nearly doubled in the past 20 years, reaching about 300 000 deaths in 2018.
Heat-related deaths in the WHO European Region have increased by more than 30% over the same 20-year period. The projections indicate that the number of days with high heat-stress levels will increase everywhere in the Region, and that heat-related impacts could increase substantially through the combined effects of climate change, urbanization and ageing.
The health case for climate action
The number of fatalities would be much lower if the global temperature rise was limited to 2 °C, which would prevent death and illness associated with heat. Without high levels of adaptation, climate change is bound to increase the heat-related burden of disease substantially.
To highlight this strong health case for climate action, WHO will issue a special report in November 2021, during the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, United Kingdom. The report will serve as a reminder that climate change must become an integral part of the health agenda and that the health sector must take the lead in promoting climate action.
Communicating heat–health risk and new evidence on effectiveness
New evidence just published by WHO/Europe clearly points to a need to expand the number, coverage and reach of heat–health action plans in the Region. These plans, which aim to prevent, react to and contain heat-related risks to health, should include measures for long-term prevention, medium-term preparation and short-term emergency measures.
The evidence shows generally good awareness but low risk perception of heat among the general public, in particular among vulnerable groups and possibly also health-care providers. Psychological mechanisms, as well as the familiarity and low-fear factor of heat, may hinder the effectiveness of heat–health risk communication.
The 2021 #KeepCool campaign
A range of risk communication, awareness and advocacy strategies can help inform communities and decision-makers about how to reduce health risks due to heat and hot weather, and how to adapt society to a hotter future.
WHO/Europe’s annual #KeepCool campaign kicks off this week with new resources, including short informational videos for use on social media and factsheets translated into many of the languages of the Region.
The campaign aims to increase heat–health advocacy and strengthen capacity to act effectively before, during and after hot weather to protect the public and reduce the burden on health systems. This is particularly important as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic compounds issues caused by extended periods of hot weather.
- Keep out of the heat. Avoid going out and engaging in strenuous activity during the hottest time of day. Stay in the shade and, if necessary and possible, spend 2–3 hours of the day in a cool place while respecting COVID-19 measures. While taking care of yourself, plan to check on family, friends and neighbours who spend much of their time alone.
- Keep your home cool. Use the night air to cool down your home. Reduce the heat load inside the apartment or house during the day by using blinds or shutters and turning off as many electrical devices as possible.
- Keep your body cool and hydrated. Use light and loose-fitting clothing and bed linen, take cool showers or baths, and drink water regularly while avoiding sugary, alcoholic or caffeinated drinks.
- Keep cool during the COVID-19 outbreak. Some people are more vulnerable to both the effects of heat and to COVID-19 complications. Vulnerable people might need assistance on hot days. If anyone you know is at risk, help them get advice and support while respecting physical distancing recommendations.