BANPUR, India (AP) — Sunil Kumar Naik’s ambulance, sirens wailing, sped through a dry and rocky landscape marked by dangerous midday heat, rushing to a 30-year-old man with vomiting and dizziness who may have suffered heat stroke. Once they reached the man’s village, Naik’s paramedic escorted the affected man into the ambulance and then checked his pulse and oxygen levels while Naik drove back to the public hospital.
Barely having time to drink some water and splash on their faces, the men were sent out again, this time to pick up a pregnant woman who had gone into labor when the temperature rose to 43 degrees Celsius (109.4 Fahrenheit). rise. And so began another angry 12-hour shift India’s Increasingly Deadly Summerwhen Naik and paramedic Jitendra Kumar sometimes find themselves making up to twice the usual calls.
Extreme heat increases rapidly a public health crisis in IndiaMore than 150 people died in the most recent brutal heat wave in June. Persistent heatwaves, sometimes classified as a slow-onset disaster, are one of the deadliest consequences of global warming India is facing. The government estimates that nearly 11,000 people have died in heat waves this century, but experts say those numbers are likely far too low.
Banpur, a village of about 13,000 people, lies deep inland in the mostly poor Bundelkhand region. It’s dry and rocky, and there’s little tree cover to keep people safe in one of the country’s hottest regions. Naik and Kumar make up one of two ambulance crews covering the village and surrounding areas, taking patients to the government health center. State and federal governments support funding for the nonprofit emergency medical service, making it a free lifeline for patients.
“I treat every patient as my family member. I don’t care if it’s hot or if I’m hungry, I set out to get the patient out and transport him to the hospital,” said Naik, whose only protection from the heat and dry, hot winds is a white cotton towel wrapped around his head. “I have a hard time driving the vehicle in extreme heat, but it’s nothing compared to the rigors of a patient in a medical emergency.”
Health experts say the heat can slowly – and quickly – kill. The fast route could be through simple heat stroke, while a slower death can occur if People who already have serious health problems suffer from it by prolonged heat, said Dileep Mavalankar, former head of the Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar.
Mavalankar was instrumental in developing India’s first heat action plan for the city of Ahmedabad in 2013, three years after a heat wave there killed more than 1,300 people. The plan laid out guidelines including issuing a heat alert when temperatures rise above 41 degrees Celsius (105.8 Fahrenheit), educating people such as field workers, farmers and others exposed to the heat about the risks they face exposed and providing resources to local health centers and hospitals to treat heat-related illnesses.
“When a cyclone hits everyone is on alert and acts immediately, but there is little awareness or action to deal with extreme heat,” Mavalankar said. “There needs to be a media blitz, local governments should warn people to stay home and prepare their hospitals to handle heat-related cases,” he said.
Aditya Valiathan Pillai from the Center for Policy Research, a think tank in New Delhi, recently educated India’s preparedness to respond to extremely hot weather. He said such plans – which include refrigeration centers and health aid – are essential to saving lives.
Climate experts say heatwaves will continue and India needs to better prepare to deal with their aftermath. A study by World Weather Attribution, an academic group that studies the source of extreme heat, found that at least one scorching April heatwave hit parts of South Asia 30 times more likely through climate change.
But poorer regions like Uttar Pradesh, where Banpur is located, may have a plan on paper but are unable to implement it.
“The affected populations are at risk because they lack resources and infrastructure to cope with the extreme temperatures,” said Anjal Prakash, research director at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad and author of several UN climate reports. “Establishing efficient early warning systems, campaigning to raise public awareness of heat-related hazards, providing adequate health facilities and targeted assistance to vulnerable populations are just a few steps that need to be taken immediately.”
In Banpur, paramedic Kumar lives with several others in the hospital’s guest quarters. With only an old fan to keep him cool, he often sweats before his work day begins. The ambulance has air conditioning, but “it couldn’t cope with the outside temperature,” Kumar said.
Most days he and Naik skip lunch. When they find time, they feed in the shade they can find. They earn just over $150 a month, which is barely enough to support their families given the rising costs. Naik has three young children and Kumar sends most of his income to his wife and parents, who live 350 kilometers away.
Despite the difficulties, they make the best of their supposedly difficult task.
“I’m proud of my work,” said Kumar. “The more critical the patient, the more difficult it becomes for us to save his life. I’m happy that I can save lives and help people.” ___
Arasu reported from Bengaluru, India.
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