A nationwide Heat Health plan is to be developed by the Ministry of Health as it plans for hotter summers due to global warming, Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter said today.

With temperatures predicted to hit record highs today Genter said the Ministry was starting to plan for hotter summers and the Heat Health Plan was to help district health boards and community health providers to prepare for the health impacts.

Dr Alex Macmillian, co-convenor of OraTaiao, The NZ Climate and Health Council in a statement today said New Zealand urgently needed a climate change and health adaptation plan, to ensure people’s health was protected from the impacts of climate change, including these higher summer temperatures.

She also advised people to take care as the heat rose today, particularly if elderly, pregnant or already had a medical condition. Babies and children were also at greater risk along with adults working outdoors.

“If there are people in your care, make sure they can keep cool enough. This includes at work, school, early childhood centres, rest homes, prisons, sporting and cultural events,” said Macmillan.

Genter said climate change meant summer temperatures were expected to rise across both the North and South Island, increasing the risk of heat stress and subtropical diseases.

The Green Party minister, whose health portfolio responsibilities include the new health ministerial delegation of climate change, said while New Zealand and the world were taking action to limit climate change, some temperature rise was now locked in and Government had a responsibility to prepare for that.

“Climate change is also likely result in more droughts, wildfires, floods and infectious disease across the country. These are potentially big challenges for the health sector and I want to make sure it ready to tackle them.”

“As the hot weather continues my messages to Kiwis is to enjoy it but take care when outside for long periods. Take breaks in the shade, stay hydrated and make sure kids have a water bottle on the at all times, said Genter.

Macmillan said short duration heat-waves could increase deaths and hospital admissions from heat stroke, heart and lung disease, placing a heavy burden on families, communities, and the health system.

“As we continue to see every year breaking new records for average and highest temperatures, climate change begins to take its toll in the form of more days of extreme heat,” she said. “In New Zealand, this means temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius, which our bodies are simply not used to here.”

The good news,” said Dr Macmillan, “is that by investing in well-designed climate action, including homes that are easy to cool and warm and better city planning, we can stay healthier and more resilient to heat events like this, and reduce our climate pollution at the same time.”

If you are in the sun the Ministry of Health reminds people to remember the sun smart message:

  • Slip on a shirt/top with long sleeves and a collar
  • Slip into the shade
  • Slop on sunscreen that is at least SPF 30, broad spectrum and water resistant, and apply 20 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours
  • Slap on a wide brimmed hat
  • Wrap on close fitting sunglasses.

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