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Low harmattan triggers mixed blessings, say experts

By Chukwuma Muanya
05 January 2021   |   4:14 am
As residents raise questions on why they have not felt the harmattan, the North-East wind that blows across the country between December and February, experts told The Guardian, yesterday, that the development was due to climate change.

[FILE] Harmattan

• Insist persistent heat may reduce COVID-19 spread, fatality
• Warn that situation will stall agricultural production
• May trigger heat exhaustion, dehydration, kidney crisis
• Avoid sun, drink enough water, Osibogun advises Nigerians
• Meteorologist says showers will come, then harsher condition

As residents raise questions on why they have not felt the harmattan, the North-East wind that blows across the country between December and February, experts told The Guardian, yesterday, that the development was due to climate change.

The weather has been very hot and humid, making residents to raise questions for meteorologists and public health physicians.

Typically, Nigerians had complained: “The weather is hot. I can hardly sleep at night because I sweat profusely leaving my bed and pillow so wet. I have to wake up about two times in the night to take my bath. It is not better in the day, because I am always drenched in sweat.”

Indeed, the situation is causing concern across the country as meteorologists and medical experts warn of its dangers on human and natural resources.

From an average temperature of 33 degree Celsius and 70 per cent humidity in Lagos to 39 degree Celsius and 11 per cent humidity in Maiduguri, excessive sweating and heath rashes have become regular these days, making it difficult for many, especially children to sleep comfortably at night.

A public health physician and Head, Lagos State COVID-19 team, Prof. Akin Osibogun, told The Guardian the issues of climate change globally had caused weather changes. The changes, he said, would affect agricultural production and subsequently nutritional status and health.

Extremely hot and dry weather, he added, could result in heat exhaustion and dehydration in humans, which poses a risk to the kidneys. To avert this, he urged members of the public to take plenty fluids, preferably water.

Medical experts warn that the extreme weather could lead to more dire consequences, such as kidney failure, stroke, excessive bleeding and skin cancer in Albinos.

Scientists blame the situation on increased Ultra Violet (UV) rays caused by depletion of the ozone layer, warning that this could sterilise trees.

But to meteorologists, the hot weather is a normal phenomenon around this period of the year due to transition from dry to rainy season.

According to a research review, an increase in heat waves worldwide linked to climate change might be behind the epidemics of kidney disease detected in workers, who are increasingly exposed to heat and dehydration.

Osibogun, had told The Guardian: “When the weather is persistently hot and humid, as being experienced now, what happens is that there will be heat exhaustion and dehydration.

“When this loss of bodily fluid continues without adequate replacement, it will affect the body organs, especially the kidney that is involved with ultra-filtration. This can lead to kidney failure. Rapid water loss causes the kidney’s functioning to slow down, resulting in temporary or permanent kidney failure.”

“Extreme heat causes rapid water loss, resulting in acute electrolyte imbalance. The kidney, unable to cope with the water loss, fails to flush out the requisite amount of creatinine and other toxins from the body. Coupled with a lack of consistent water intake, this brings about permanent or temporary kidney failure.”

He also identified adverse effects on the brain and blood, causing excessive bleeding and haemorrhagic stroke, and skin cancer in albinos as some of the danger to watch out for.

Previous study published in Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical and Clinical Research found that burden of renal diseases might increase, as the period of hot weather becomes more frequent, and this is further aggravated in advanced age and people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension.

A new research suggests that drinking sugary, caffeinated soft drinks while exercising in hot weather may increase the risk of kidney disease. The study is published ahead of print in the American Journal of Physiology—Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.

Also, according to a study titled “Investigating Effects of Climate Change on Health Risks in Nigeria” and published in ONLINE FIRST by Ilevbare Femi, cerebra-spinal meningitis is one of the infectious diseases likely to be caused by climate change. Incidences of meningitis, for instance, have been on the rise in Nigeria due to excessive heat.

Meningitis is a disease caused by an infection due to bacteria, viruses and protozoa, of the meanings, which is the thin lining that surrounds the brain and the spinal cord.

Also, climatic conditions have been shown to affect water-borne diseases in Nigeria. The changes in climatic conditions are germane to lengthen the transmission seasons of important vector-borne diseases and alter their geographic range. Malaria has been identified to be caused by climate conditions due to unicellular organism known as Plasmodium and transmitted by the bite of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. Evidence shows that malaria accounted for over 45 per cent of all outpatients and about 50 per cent of the Nigerians suffer from at least one episode of malaria each year.

Evidence has proven that climate change has environmental and economic consequences on human health. The effects on human diseases such as skin cancer have been relatively under-emphasised. There is a direct link between ultraviolet (UV) exposure from the sun and the development of malignant skin disease.

One profound effect of climate change is among the aged persons in Nigeria. According to Aina and Adewoyin, the vulnerable age are particularly more at risk of climate-related diseases because of the effect of their age on their physiological and immunological compositions. Research has provided credence that the aged are more at risk of climate-related diseases because they have a lower physiological reserve, possess a slower rate of metabolism and a weakened immune system and have a higher morbidity rate.

On what Nigerians should do to protect themselves, Osibogun, who is the immediate past Chief Medical director (CMD) of LUTH, said: “We should reduce our exposure to the sun. It depends on the kind of work you do, but reduce the number of hours you stay under the sun, or rather outside, although some people, like bricklayers, cannot help but stay in the sun all day.

“The negative effect could also be reduced by drinking enough water to replace the lost fluid from excessive sweating. Try and carry bottled water wherever you go and drink at least three litres of water daily.”

A consultant meteorologist, Mr. Cyprian Okoloye, formerly with the Central Forecast Office of the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET), had told The Guardian yesterday afternoon: “The weather is not unusual. We are approaching the transition period between the dry season and rainy season. Usually, during the transition period, you experience very hot and humid weather. In a couple of days, you may see some showers. The situation will return after the showers, even harsher conditions.”