Climate change, heat stress and their impact on health and work capacity

(DFG RESEARCH UNIT 2936: Individual Project 4)

Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. med Hanns-Christian Gunga

Leading Post-Doc: PD Dr. Martina Anna Maggioni


Climate change intensifies exposure to extreme heat events. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) excessive heat already presents an alarming health hazard.

Human beings have to keep to a constant core body temperature  of about 37 °C to maintain health. When exposed to heat, effective responses can be activated to facilitate heat losses from the body, by increasing skin perfusion and/or increasing the sweat rate for example. However, those reactions can cause heavy strain on the body – especially when combined with intensive physical work, which typically occurs during outdoor farming activities. Such strain may be perceived as a discomfort, but with prolonged heat exposure, it can cause exhaustion and in severe forms, will lead to heat injuries or even death. This is even more likely when the work has to be performed under hot and humid environmental conditions.

It can be assumed that as global warming continues, farmers in SSA will have to use pacing strategies to overcome the foreseen heat burden (i.e. either by significantly reducing their hourly working capacity, shifting the work to cooler periods of the day/night (the latter unlikely in farming), and/or using technical solutions for indoor work places, such as air-conditioning).

It is important to take into account that most of the daily workload in SSA is manual subsistence agriculture. It is obvious that any reduction in productivity will induce several additional severe economic, social, and health problems. Therefore, in the framing of the research unit the present proposal aims to investigate the heat stress experienced by farmers in SSA and its impact on productivity.


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