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Reaching out to community members who are most at-risk during extreme heat events

Much of Australia will experience low-intensity to severe heatwaves this week, according to Bureau of Metereology forecasts that provide a timely reminder of the importance of a focus on #HeatwaveHealth.

In Melbourne, IPC Health is working to develop community-wide approaches to addressing the health impacts of heatwaves, according to CEO Jayne Nelson in the article below.

IPC Health is partnering with a #CroakeyGO on #HeatwaveHealth this Wednesday at Sunshine; find out more about how to participate here.


Jayne Nelson writes:

The recently published long range forecast for summer from the Bureau of Meteorology suggests hot, dry times to continue. Heatwaves kill more people in Australia than all other natural hazards combined. Since 1890, heatwaves have killed more people than all other extreme weather events, such as floods or bushfires.

Jayne Nelson

The number of people with heat-related health issues across Victoria during the 2014 heatwave was five times greater than expected. That year, 167 additional people died as a result of extreme heat.

The heatwave of 2009 is most commonly remembered by the effects of the ‘Black Saturday Bushfires that devastatingly killed 173 people.

However, this heatwave had an even more severe effect on the health of Victorians; the Department of Human Services estimates that this heatwave can be attributed to 374 excess deaths (above the anticipated mortality rate), during the first week of the heatwave, prior to any influence from the bushfires.

Heatwaves are now known as the silent killer.

An extreme heat event or heatwave is a period of unusual and uncomfortable hot weather that could negatively affect human health. People can experience heat-related health issues in Victoria with just two days of 32 degree temperatures, and the effects continue well after the temperature has dropped.

The weeks during and after the 2009 heatwave, emergency departments reported that heat-related health issues were eight times greater than normal.

Increases in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves place greater demand on public health and emergency services. However, with community planning, preparedness and a coordinated response, we can build our community’s resilience to extreme weather events, reduce the public health burden of heatwaves and save lives.

Keeping cool

This is the mission behind IPC Health’s ‘Keep Cool in Summer Campaign’.

IPC Health is one of the largest providers of community health services in Victoria, operating from six sites in Melbourne’s West: Deer Park, Sunshine, St Albans, Altona Meadows, Hoppers Crossing and Wyndham Vale.

We provide a wide range of health and wellbeing services and support people and community on the ground, building their awareness and understandings, and supporting them to acquire the knowledge to be resilient.

People who are older or very young, have co-morbidities, cognitive impairment and poor social support are more at risk of heat-related illness.

As a community health service, we feel the responsibility to support our communities, and help them to prepare for extreme weather events. Heatwaves are the most predictable and prevalent of natural hazards and have disproportional health outcomes for people of lower socioeconomic status.

The city of Brimbank is very culturally and linguistically diverse and has the third lowest index of socio-economic disadvantage in Victoria.

Suburbs like Sunshine, St Albans, Albanvale and King’s Park create an urban heat island with a high percentage of heat absorbing concrete and asphalt surfaces such as roads, footpaths, car parks and building roofs and a low percentage of cooling trees, vegetation and water. The municipality also has a strong car based-culture adding to the heat-island affect.

Furthermore, Brimbank’s population profile matches those who are more at risk of heat related illness. We are also an ageing population. We know that older people are at a higher risk of becoming isolated if they live by themselves, and that this isolation can reduce their capacity to protect themselves during a heatwave. People living in car-dependent neighbourhoods who do not have a car are also at increased risk of social isolation. 

Community engagement

Our partners in the ‘Keep Cool in Summer/Hotspots Brimbank’ campaign include Brimbank City Council, cohealth and Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, who generously funded this initiative.

The campaign involves engaging with local services providers, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, elderly residents and families with young children to raise awareness of the effects of heatwaves on health, understand peoples’ experiences during summer and the strategies they use to keep cool, healthy and well.

So far, we have engaged with 126 organisations/community groups and 803 individuals; through conversations, information sessions and community events.

Over 3,500 ‘Keep Cool in Summer’ promotional materials have been distributed in multiple languages.

On the 23 October, we held a Hotspots forum for services providers, to discuss and share knowledge for heatwave planning and building community capacity and resilience at a local level.

Signing up to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Heath Alert system, is an excellent first step.

You can then develop a plan of how you will respond to a heatwave when it is announced; what will you do to support your staff, clients and community members before, during and after a heatwave.

We encourage you to promote Brimbank Community Register to your more isolated clients, so they may receive regular phone calls from volunteers who check if they are ok. This is a free and confidential service from Brimbank City Council and Victoria Police for over 50 years.

We also encourage service providers to learn more and educate their clients about heat related illnesses such as dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke; the possibility of heat worsening the condition of an individual with a pre-existing medical condition and how their medications may affect the way their body reacts to heat.

Our #HeatwaveHealth #CroakeyGO walking journalism event is imperative to raising the public profile on this issue, and to taking broader community-wide approaches to build resilience to the health impacts of heatwaves.

Please join us and CroakeyGo in person on Wednesday 11 December from 9.30am, at IPC Health’s Sunshine campus, 2 Devonshire Road, Sunshine (behind the Granary Café) to explore how communities are responding to heatwaves and associated health risks. Or contribute to the discussion online.

Follow us on Twitter @IPCHealth_au and during the week of 9 December on @WePublicHealth on #HeatwaveHealth.

• Jayne Nelson is CEO of IPC Health


From Twitter


Croakey readers are invited to participate by attending the walk (see the itinerary here and below), or by participating online. See a tip-sheet for participants here. And bookmark this link to track our coverage.

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