EINDWERK Potential effect of a heat wave on core temperature of patients in the emergency department and the hospital. | Jan Devloo

Global warming is a topic that is getting more and more attention over the years. Every year deadly wildfires plague the continents of the United States of America and Australia. The rest of the world, too, is faced with unprecedented temperatures in recent decades. Record-breaking droughts and heatwaves are proof of this extreme weather. The 2020 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change, announced that 157 million more people were exposed to heatwave events in 2017, compared to 2000 (Watts et al., 2021). Such environmental disasters will only intensify. Governments, rightly, want to know what to do. Yet the climatescience community is struggling to offer useful answer (Marx et al., 2021). If the planet warms by 2 °C, the widely touted temperature limit in the 2015 Paris climate agreement, twice as many people will face water scarcity than if warming is limited to 1.5 °C. That extra warming will also expose more than 1.5 billion people to deadly heat extremes, and hundreds of millions of individuals to vector-borne diseases such as malaria, among other harms (Kalkstein & Greene, 1997). But, more and more researchers report another alarming fact, namely: global warming is accelerating (Fig 1)(Xu et al., 2018). Now, more than ever, we need to think about how we can slow down global warming and how we can prepare for these scorching heat waves.

While policymakers are puzzling how to combat global warming, we, as physicians and prevention advisors, need to brainstorm how to protect patients from impending heat waves. Research and emergency planning are crucial. In hospitals, we see that staff, patients and infrastructure are often not prepared for these extreme weather phenomena. We must assess which policies can be enacted most swiftly and successfully to reduce morbidity and mortality from heat waves.

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