As the planet warms, some regions – including the African tropics – are heating up faster than others. Periods of extreme heat are becoming longer and more frequent, and that has dangerous effects particularly on vulnerable groups including the elderly, infants, and people who work outdoors, scientists say.
“We know that many African subsistence farmers are women, and they’ve been a neglected area of research,” said Andy Haines, former director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a supervisor of Bonell’s research.
That means “this work is potentially very significant”. Large studies from the United States and Europe have shown that higher temperatures are linked to an increase in premature births and babies born underweight, but they have not demonstrated how or why it happens, said Ana Bonell, a doctor specialising in tropical medicine and maternal health.
To try to answer that question, she has observed 50 pregnant women so far in an ongoing study for the Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She aims to monitor 125 in total.
In about 30% of the women, Bonell said, she has seen signs of foetal distress – either a high foetal heart rate or not enough blood going to the baby – when mothers work outside in the heat.
After many years working across the African continent, we have seen the enormity of the solar opportunity grow alongside rapid population expansion. The investment potential is currently estimated at $24bn by a report unveiled recently at the UK’s African Investment Forum.
The Forum saw government representatives, investors and private companies come together in a hive of activity resulting in multiple deals, all with the aim of furthering the development of the African continent.