Parents who drive have been warned against leaving their children locked up in vehicles because the high temperatures this season can have fatal consequences.
Zambia Medical Association (ZMA) president Aaron Mujajati said worldwide, children have lost their lives in what was referred to as “forgotten baby syndrome” where parents left their children in stationary motor vehicles.
Dr Mujajati said with high temperatures recorded in the hot season, people should avoid leaving children unattended in vehicles as this left children unconsciousness or even death.
“‘Forgotten baby syndrome’ is the unintentional behaviour of continuously busy parents who forget to remove their child from vehicles.
“Among recent child deaths in hot cars, approximately half occurred because parents forgot that the child was in the car, 18 percent happened after parents intentionally left the child in the car without understanding how hot it could get, and 30percent happened after the child climbed into the car to play,” he said.
Dr Mujajati explained that between 1998 and 2011, at least 500 children in the United States died from being inside hot cars with 75 percent being victims less than two- years-old.
He was commenting on the current high summer temperatures which could become unbearably high and result in heat stroke.
Dr Mujajati warned members of the public to be particularly watchful and take preventive measures against heat stroke especially for children and the elderly who were most vulnerable.
“Heat stroke is a condition that is characterized by a body temperature greater than 40.6 degree Celsius (°C) because of environmental heat exposure with lack of or inadequate capacity of the body to maintain body normal temperature.
Dr Mujajati warned against consumption of alcohol amid high temperatures as it contributed to dehydration leading to heat stroke.
He said for humans and other warm-blooded animals, excessive body temperature can disrupt enzymes regulating biochemical reactions that are essential for cellular respiration and the normal functioning of major organs.
Dr Mujajati said children and elderly individuals left alone in vehicles were at particular risk of succumbing to heat stroke, even when the windows were left partially open.
Signs and symptoms of heat stroke in general include very high body temperatures greater than 40.6 °C in combination with disorientation and a lack of sweating, while in exceptional heat stroke, the affected person may sweat excessively. Young children, in particular, may develop fits or seizures.
Dr Mujajati said prevention could include taking water regularly, as well as wearing light loose-fitting clothes.
He said the use of wide-brimmed hats in the sun and use of light color clothes help prevent the sun from warming the head and neck.
Dr Mujajati said people must avoid strenuous exercise during daylight hours and that “…construction site managers and occupational health and safety managers should consider working very early in the morning and in the evening to avoid the afternoon heat”.
He has since called on the Government to invest heavily in the Zambia Environmental Management Agency and the Meteorological Department for effective environmental protection programmes.