20 Dead In Delhi Heatwave, Centre Orders Hospitals To Prioritise Treatment

Dr Ajay Shukla, medical superintendent of the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, warned that the mortality rate in heatstroke cases is quite high

Delhi residents have been reeling under a heatwave for nearly a month now

New Delhi:

As cases of heatstroke spike in several parts of north India due to an unrelenting heatwave, the Union Health Ministry has issued an advisory to central government-run hospitals to treat patients of heatstroke on priority. Health Minister JP Nadda has reviewed the situation and the preparedness of government hospitals run by the Centre and directed officials to ensure special heatwave units are started so that the best possible care is given to patients.

With 20 deaths taking place in just three major hospitals in the national capital this summer, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority has also released guidelines for people to safeguard themselves against heatstrokes and other heat-related issues. 

At the state-run Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Delhi, 45 patients with heat-related problems have been admitted since May 27. The hospital has reported nine deaths due to such problems since then and seven of these deaths have taken place over the past two days. Nine people have also died at the Safdarjung Hospital this summer -- including five on Wednesday -- and two at the Lok Nayak Hospital in the past seven days.

Patients presenting heatstroke symptoms have also been admitted to several other hospitals In the national capital.

Mortality Rate High

Dr Ajay Shukla, medical superintendent of the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, warned that the mortality rate in heatstroke cases is quite high -- about 60-70 per cent. "If the patient is brought late to the hospital, one organ after the other starts failing. There is a lack of awareness. A lot of these patients are migrant labourers. Also, the symptoms (of heatstroke) can be easily missed or mistaken for something else. It's only when patients faint that their relatives feel that hospitalisation is needed."

Dr Shukla said there is a need to spread awareness about heatstroke. "We need to educate people. Instead of rushing to the hospital, if you suspect that a person is suffering from heatstroke, you must start the cooling there and then. Use water, ice, while trying to get them to the hospital. We have also equipped ambulances so that they can start cooling immediately after they reach the patients."

In its guidelines, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority has advised people against going out in the sun, especially between noon and 3 pm. It has suggested that people should drink water as often as possible, even when not thirsty, and carry water with them while travelling. It said alcohol, tea, coffee and carbonated soft drinks, which dehydrate the body, should be avoided and ORS and homemade beverages like lassi, torani (rice water), lemon water and buttermilk should be consumed instead.

In terms of clothing, the authority has said people should wear light-coloured loose and porous cotton cloths and use goggles and an umbrella when stepping out. It has also advised bathing frequently in cold water.

Relief Expected?

Delhi residents have been reeling under an unrelenting heatwave for nearly a month now. Minimum temperatures in the city have crossed the 35 degrees mark -- several degrees above normal -- and maximum temperatures hover around the 45 degrees mark. Tap water is hot throughout the day, and even air-conditioners are struggling to bring relief.

The weather office has said in its forecast that heatwave conditions are likely to continue over most parts of north India for the next 24 hours and abate after that.

On what is leading to the abnormally warm nights, Rajneesh Sareen of the Delhi-based thinktank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has an explanation.

"The construction and concretisation in big cities like Delhi has significantly gone up. Concrete buildings absorb heat through the day and release it at night. This is why minimum temperatures are rising in big cities," said Mr Sareen, programme director for Sustainable Habitat Programme at CSE.

Earlier, he said, daytime temperatures would be high, but people would get some relief at night. "But nowadays, ACs are exploding because of a heat island effect. Construction in Delhi is going up and the green area is reducing. The construction of high-rises is also affecting wind movement," he said, adding that use of concrete has to be reduced.