Monday, January 11, 2010

Protect the Aged: This Summer stop deaths from heat stress

Today the Australian Medical Association (Victorian branch) made a powerful plea for compassion, justice and common sense. This statement was made in light of extreme heat conditions recently – which have seen appalling rates of death amongst the aged and the infirm.

To illustrate the point, the AMA (Vic) has argued that:

"During the heatwave in January 2009, an additional 374 people died than would usually be expected. Many of these deaths were older Victorians, and many were due to heat-related conditions."

In response, the AMA has demanded: “[subsidisation of] the cost of cooling aids such as air conditioners for Victorians aged over 75.”

Specifically, the call was for rebates of $1000; and installation of air conditioning units in public housing estates; at a cost of AUS $37 million for the Victorian state government.

This issue is of special concern to Left Focus: as we were trying to promote this issue as far back as early 2009. It is edifying and a relief that now – finally – there is the prospect of action.

For previous discussion of these issues at Left Focus see:

There are other related issues, though, which are not discussed in the AMA media release.

Firstly: air-conditioning needs to be made compulsory for all aged care facilities – including nursing homes
and hostels.

Secondly: the target age of 75 and over might need a rethink. Surely elderly citizens as young as 70 – and sometimes younger – are also vulnerable.

Thirdly: even though it is a great start, a $1000 rebate might not be enough of a subsidy for pensioners living in poverty – many of whom cannot afford essentials such as heating during Winter, other utilities costs, rental expenses, transport, and a balanced diet. Installation costs alone can be in the vicinity of $1000 – without even taking into consideration the costs of heating units. Action is needed now on ALL these fronts…

Furthermore: If we accept the logic of the AMA’s arguments in relation to heat stress and the vulnerability of aged pensioners, then surely we must follow the same example with regards to the Winter months. Surely we must make sure the elderly have access to affordable and effective heating then also. This might entail subsidies for heating units – and further subsidies in the form of a more generous utilities allowance.

And finally: similar action to that discussed here needs to be taken not only in Australia – but over the entire globe. The problem needs to be addressed nation-wide – wherever the aged, the infirm and the vulnerable are at risk.

In Victoria for 2009 the road toll at the end of the year stood at 295 lives lost.

Action on that front in the form of drink driving blitzes, public education programs and the like are of critical importance – and thus receive significant levels of funding from governments.

The vulnerability of the aged in the face of heat stress and extreme Winter weather, however, is just as much of a critical issue of human interest.

In matters of life and death such as these no excuses should be accepted: we must demand action now.

Please demonstrate your concern about these issues and write to the Premier of Victoria, John Brumby demanding action on this issue:

The Premier can be contacted by email from the URL below:

Also consider writing to other state and federal government leaders about these issues.

And if you are from another country from Australia, consider following these issues through locally – depending on the need for action wherever it is you live.

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