France unveils emergency plans for next heat wave

5th May 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 5 (AFP) - French Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy on Wednesday unveiled a new government plan to tackle heat waves, in a bid to avert future health disasters like that which claimed 15,000 lives last summer.

PARIS, May 5 (AFP) - French Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy on Wednesday unveiled a new government plan to tackle heat waves, in a bid to avert future health disasters like that which claimed 15,000 lives last summer.

Douste-Blazy, who assumed his post just over a month ago in a government reshuffle, mapped out a four-level alert system aimed at fostering better cooperation among police, emergency services and health care providers.

He also allocated more than EUR 20 million (USD 24.3 million) to homes for the elderly - the main victims of the 2003 heat wave - so that facility administrators can set up at least one air-conditioned room for emergency use.

The minister urged city and town halls to carry out a census of older people in their communities in order to create a list of "vulnerable persons" requiring immediate assistance in extreme weather conditions.

"We're talking about a heat wave, but there might not be another heat wave," Douste-Blazy told reporters, noting that the plan could be implemented to confront other health emergencies.

The centre-right government came under sharp criticism for its handling of last year's crisis, which was seen as tardy, insufficient and inept.

Despite increasingly strident warnings from hospital doctors as bodies piled up, the government only implemented a nationwide emergency plan after the heat wave, which struck during the first two weeks of August, had all but passed.

France was shocked by the soaring death toll, which reached 14,802, according to a report issued last September by the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM).

Most of those who succumbed to the punishing temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and above were elderly people living alone or in retirement homes.

Jean-Francois Mattei, health minister when the crisis erupted, was ousted from the government in the reshuffle following the centre-right's rout in March regional polls. Surgeon general Lucien Abenhaim resigned over the disaster.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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