The rise in the number of sudden deaths from heat is a major concern in Maiduguri where temperatures have soared to 43°C, and sometimes even higher, in the past few weeks.
Borno State is known to be one of the warmest regions in Nigeria with an average daily temperature of 37°C, but lately temperatures of 40°C and greater were making people ill and some were even dying from the heat.
Doctors and nurses told RNI that the persistent heat was killing residents, particularly people aged 65 and older, infants and children up to four years old, as well as people who were overweight or had existing medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart diseases.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said sudden deaths and hospitalisations from heat could occur extremely rapidly, with some dying on the first day of a heatwave. The effect on others sometimes lagged and death occurred several days later.
The agency said even small differences from seasonal average temperatures were associated with increased illness and death. Temperature extremes could worsen chronic conditions, including cardiovascular, respiratory and cerebrovascular diseases, as well as diabetes-related conditions.
Mohammed Usman, a clinician, told RNI that the high rate of sudden deaths was not only related to extreme heat but also to other causes, such as malaria, hypertension, typhoid and lack of proper sanitation, among others.
“There are many causes of sudden death, including depression, strokes, heart attacks, hypertension or high blood pressure. People who have these kinds of health conditions are more likely to die suddenly or unexpectedly in extreme heat.”
He said the changes in the environment, with temperatures sometimes higher or lower, could cause acute fever, increasing the chances of them becoming victims of sudden deaths.
“So, when people, especially those with severe health complications, such as malaria and typhoid, among others, are exposed to excessive heat or continual hot weather, it can lead to sudden death. That’s why we advise people not to work under the hot sun and to sleep in a room that has good ventilation.”
Usman said extreme heat contributed to diseases, such as malaria and typhoid.
“In this heat the number of cases of malaria and typhoid often increase dramatically. They are rampant, especially because of a lack of proper sanitation and the habit of some people of dumping their refuse along waterways and drainage systems. Most people are not aware that dumping garbage, which is one of the causes of poor sanitation, can badly affect their health.
“Malaria is caused by a Plasmodium parasite, by the female Anopheles mosquito. Stagnant dirty water is the main breeding ground for these mosquitoes. Dumping refuse into waterways and drainage systems, as well as poor sanitation, all increase the chances of spreading typhoid and other water-borne diseases,” he said.
“We urge people to keep their homes and the environment as clean as possible. In this clinic, we have noticed that in times of extreme heat, we have more cases of malaria and typhoid, as well as other diseases. And the number of deaths also rises.”
Workers at the Gwange Graveyard, one of the largest cemeteries in Maiduguri, told RNI that when the temperature rises, the cemetery records a higher number of burials.
Alhaji Bukar Sheriff Konto, a graveyard worker, said: “The number of burials increases when the temperatures are higher. The average number of people we bury daily is about five to seven. Sometimes none. But, with the increased heat, we are burying anything from 15 to 20 corpses.”
The Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NiMet) said most parts of the country were experiencing intense heat, especially in the north.
In a statement it said temperatures in some parts of the country were expected to reach more than 40°C, adding that people should not stay indoors unless they had air-conditioning. It advised people to stay out of the sun between noon and 4pm.
It said people should drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration, stay in the shade and to wear light and bright clothing. People should avoid wearing dark colours.
The WHO said climate change was affecting social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change was expected to cause about 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.
When people were exposed to extreme heat, they could suffer from potentially deadly illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and head stroke. Hot temperatures contributed to deaths from heart attacks, strokes and other forms of cardiovascular diseases.
The agency said heat stroke was the most serious heat-related disorder. It occurred when the body became unable to control its temperature. Body temperature rose rapidly, the sweating mechanism failed and the body could not cool down.
SHETTIMA LAWAN MONGUNO