In India, an emergency service against heat stress

“In my thirteen years of career here, I don’t remember ever having signed a death certificate for heat stroke. This year, I signed several.” This is the bitter observation of Ajay Chauhan, a doctor in one of the largest hospitals in New Delhi. Interviewed by the BBC, Doctor Ajay Chauhan pilot “the first emergency service” against hyperthermia in the country.

Because, since May, India has suffered extreme heat waves, with peaks of 50°C. In June, in the space of three days, at least a hundred people died in the north of the country.

Doctor Ajay Chauhan “never seen so many patients”, assures the British media. At Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, its department, opened in May, has implemented a special protocol to save as many lives as possible.

“Every second counts”

Like that of Raju, 35, who arrived at the emergency room in thermal distress on Tuesday June 18, relates The Indian Express. His body temperature was around 42°C. “At this temperature, the human body begins to stop functioning, cells deteriorate and there is a risk of certain organ failure,” explains it BBC. Patients vomit, experience diarrhea, malaise, or even epileptic seizures. Any delay in support may “either prove fatal, cause hemorrhage or damage the patient’s kidneys and liver”.

A race against time begins to cool the body as quickly as possible. “Every second counts”, insists Ajay Chauhan. Patients like Raju are immersed in ceramic bathtubs filled with crushed ice, between 0°C and 5°C.

“When we immerse these patients in an icy bathtub, we have to keep their heads above water, because most are already unconscious,” testifies Doctor Seema Balkrishna Wasnik on the website of The Indian Express.

After twenty to thirty minutes of this shock treatment, the body temperature begins to drop, and the patients are placed on respiratory assistance.

Absent from political discourse

Since the end of May, “73 patients were admitted” for hyperthermia at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, “including 26 in the last twenty-four hours”, counted Friday June 21 as Times of India.

Between 1er March and June 18, heat waves in India caused more than 40,000 cases of heatstroke, and at least 110 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health, still reports the Times of India. But official figures are often largely underestimated, notes the BBC.

When he talks about the future, Doctor Chauhan is pessimistic to the British media: “It’s going to get worse. We have to be very careful,” he warns. Especially since “India’s heat action plans are not working well. (…) The thermal emergency does not appear in the political discourse”, notices the BBC.

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