The Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP), through its Paediatric Task Force, has issued recommendations for schools to reduce the impacts of the current heatwave on the island’s children.
The Task Force, which has shared a report outlining risk reduction strategies and information on the symptoms and consequences of heat-related illness with the Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training, stated that the current heatwave posed a significant health risk, particularly to students.
“As we navigate the sweltering heat…the soaring temperatures pose additional challenges to the usual back-to-school adjustments for teachers, parents, and students. It is imperative that we remain vigilant about the potential adverse effects of higher environmental temperatures on children’s health and well-being. To this end, proactive measures must be taken to minimise the unwanted impact,” the report said.
It further stated that a comprehensive approach, encompassing homes, schools, transportation, playgrounds, and public spaces, was needed to mitigate the risks associated with elevated temperatures.
Some of the risk reduction strategies recommended
by the Task Force include:
• Hydration: Ensure easy access to drinking water. Encourage the use of reusable water bottles to minimise waste. Water is the optimal fluid but consider electrolyte-supplemented beverages like sports drinks for those who sweat excessively after participating in at least one hour of physical exercise. Avoid sugary drinks and caffeinated beverages, as they can exacerbate dehydration.
• Wearing lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-coloured natural fabric clothing, which can help mitigate the impact of extreme heat. Schools may consider allowing casual attire, such as “Cool Clothes” days, as an alternative to uniforms, even on non-Physical Education days. Hats should be worn in direct sunlight to reduce the risk of overheating.
• Adapted physical activity: Modify physical exercise routines, both in terms of timing and intensity. It is recommended to avoid school physical education in unshaded or poorly ventilated areas between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. While the importance of keeping children active is recognised, it must be balanced with the increased risk of heat-related illnesses. Consider reducing the duration and intensity of active exercise sessions by 30 per cent.
• Providing designated cooling areas: Establish specially cooled areas or “cool corners” where mildly affected individuals can recover. These areas should be equipped with fans, readily available fluids, cold compresses, and knowledgeable monitors.
• Safe travel practices: Children may face challenges during travel either to or from school or during school trips, due to hot weather conditions. Pre-hydration and carrying individual water bottles are strongly recommended.
• Recognising vulnerability: Some children are more vulnerable than others to increased temperatures. Those with chronic conditions such as diabetes, sickle cell trait, sickle cell anaemia, or obesity are at higher risk. Recent recovery from an illness, especially if accompanied by fever, vomiting, or diarrhoea, increases the risk of dehydration and these children should be specially protected or monitored.
BAMP’s Paediatric Task Force urged schools to be vigilant and to report any signs or symptoms of heat stress in children. They include decreased sweating and infrequent urination; dry lips and tongue; crying without tears; elevated heart rate and breathing; feeling faint, dizzy or weak; headache; muscle cramps; nausea and/or vomiting.
Additionally, the report stated that children may be at higher risk for heat exhaustion if they are overweight or recovering from a recent illness, such as a cold or the flu.
Heat exhaustion should be treated immediately, said BAMP, as it can progress to heat stroke. Signs of heat stroke include a dangerously high body temperature, dry or wet skin, severe headache, nausea, confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures.
If it is suspected that a child is experiencing heat exhaustion, the following steps should be taken:
• Move them to a cool, shaded place, ideally in an air-conditioned setting.
• Remove excess clothing and apply cold, wet towels to the head, neck, armpits, and groin. Alternatively, wrap them in a damp sheet or use a hose or shower to cool them.
• Use a fan to cool them down manually or switch on an electric fan.
• Encourage the child to drink cool, salt-containing fluids (e.g., sports drinks) unless they are drowsy or vomiting.
• If they complain of painful muscle cramps, gently stretch or massage the affected muscles.
If symptoms do not improve within 10 minutes, the child’s body temperature remains high, or they are unable to drink or become less alert, BAMP recommends that persons in authority seek immediate medical attention for the child. The association added that dark-coloured urine or an inability to pass urine also warrants medical attention. (BGIS)