James Cook University researchers have
revealed heatwaves are Australia’s deadliest
natural disaster and that the country has
more to do to prepare for the events after
a study found mortality, hospital, emergency
and ambulance demand increase significantly
across the country during heatwave periods.
Hannah Mason is an Associate lecturer at James Cook
University’s College of Public Health, Medical & Vet
Sciences, working with Professor Richard Franklin in
public health research. She was the lead author of a
paper that examined reports on the effects of heatwaves
between 2000 and 2020.
This work is part of a wider study being undertaken by
JCU, for which the Queensland Department of Environment
and Science provided $100,000 in funding, under a program
of work which aims to improve understandings of the impacts
of heatwaves on health, and the cross-sectoral strategies
required to reduce the impacts of heat on health under
a changing climate.
She said the growing number of recorded heatwaves and extreme
heat events each year in Australia is a health concern,
as heatwaves kill many more people than any other natural
“Australia has experienced a consistent increase in
amplitude, magnitude, frequency, and duration of heatwaves
which have been attributed to the effects of climate change,”
said Miss Mason.
She said the study found hospital admissions for
cardiovascular, renal, respiratory, mental and behavioural
conditions increased during heatwaves. With increases in
emergency department attendance, ambulance call outs,
and mortality also occurring.
“Direct effects of heat, such as heat stroke, dehydration, organ failure,
and cardiac arrest, can be exacerbated for people with
pre-existing medical conditions.
“The most common risk factor for heatwave presentations and
mortality was being over 60-years-old followed by low socioeconomic
status and being under 18-years-old. Health services are also
directly affected by heatwaves through the effect on staff,
power and water consumption and quality and other infrastructure
and mechanical failures,” said Miss Mason.
She said the researchers found all health services saw increased
usage during heatwaves and identified the specific health
conditions that are impacted by heatwaves along with the
vulnerable population subgroups the are more likely to access
health services during the events.
“With the likelihood of increasing heatwaves and their severity,
early warning systems and preparedness programs, especially for
health services, should be developed and evaluated to address
areas where we anticipate more demand during heatwaves.
“Health planning is essential at the community, state, and
federal levels to mitigate the impacts of these events on health
and health service delivery, especially for vulnerable populations,”
said Professor Franklin.
JAMES COOK UNIVERSITY
Provided by the IKCEST Disaster Risk Reduction Knowledge Service System