Responding to increasingly frequent heatwaves is an emerging demand on Chile’s health sector. In August 2019, global experts gathered in Santiago to review current mechanisms for predicting and responding to heatwaves, and to identify opportunities to improve forecasting, preparedness and the human impact focus for heat health in the context of the country’s climate change adaptation policy and emergency preparedness and response system.
The two day event, organized by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), together with the Global Heat Health Information Network and the Government of Chile, explored opportunities to improve preparedness for extreme heat, using guidance developed by PAHO, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
In Chile, heatwaves are currently forecasted based solely on maximum temperatures, and information is tailored only for forestry, with little lead time. There is an emergency protocol for responding to extreme cold, but not for heat.
Teams from Chile’s Ministry of Health and the National Meteorological Services expect to conduct new impact studies to enhance available evidence of impacts and vulnerabilities, and to develop epidemiologically informed thresholds. They will also explore ways to better capture heat stress information in the existing integrated emergency management and health surveillance system.
Meeting participants also compared experiences with heat warning and response systems operations in Argentina and the USA. Experts from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Argentina’s Ministry of Health and National Meteorological Services clarified how relevant issues, such as the use of relative humidity, have been dealt with. NOAA also shared their experiences in mapping urban heat islands, syndromic surveillance, and using decision-trees in regional pilots projects to identify decisions needed at different timescales. Argentina shared knowledge on the use of both minimum and maximum temperature to create a threshold, and the challenges of population size in determining heat events.
At the national level throughout 2019, Chile’s Ministry of Health has been running preparedness simulation exercises with hospitals and primary care facilities to enhance capacity to manage heat in complex contexts, such as in locations with existing water stress or forest fires.
The meeting increased coordination between health and meteorological services, and increased awareness of the potential for improving early warning systems and preparedness to protect health across timescales.