HEALTH Minister ’Molotsi Monyamane says alcohol played a major role in the fatalities and injuries that occurred during the festive season.
Dr Monyamane made the remarks yesterday in Maseru during a media briefing to announce the statistics on festive season injuries and fatalities. The briefing was also meant to advise the public on health risks associated with the current heat wave.
He said 19 deaths were recorded across the country’s hospitals, with 466 stab wounds, 63 gunshot victims and 88 cases of rape. There were also 1 133 cases of “other assaults” and 217 road traffic accidents.
The minister said Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital in Maseru bore the brunt of the carnage, with 13 fatalities, 23 gunshot victims, 122 stab wound cases and 50 victims of road traffic accidents recorded at the referral hospital popularly known as Tsepong.
Mafeteng followed suit with 15 recorded gunshot victims, 70 stab wounds and 20 cases of rape among others.
Dr Monyamane attributed the spike in injuries and fatalities to the abuse of alcohol during the festive season.
“Most of the assaults and deaths during the festive season were largely due to alcohol abuse, especially road traffic accidents. Alcohol abuse played a major role in incidents of shooting and stabbing in the country,” he said.
Dr Monyamane said the ministry had put in place strategies to stem the carnage which include health education campaigns to prevent and manage injuries.
“As part of efforts to mitigate the high incidents of injuries and fatalities, we intend to give the ministry’s drivers first aid lessons in order to help victims,” he said.
The minister said they would strengthen district emergency preparedness teams by including the police and identify key groups vulnerable to injuries such as taxi operators for first aid training.
“We are also going to ensure the availability of emergency kits in all forms of public transport as well as knowledge of its proper use,” he said.
Dr Monyamane also implored Basotho to become aware of the health effects of the current heat wave which is a result of climate change and the global weather phenomenon El Niño.
Under El Niño, waters of the eastern tropical Pacific warm resulting in dramatic changes to the atmosphere and altering weather patterns worldwide. Parts of South America experience heavy rainfall, while drought-like conditions prevail in Australia, south-east Asia and southern Africa.
Among the health challenges Basotho need to be aware of, he said, were heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
The minister noted that heat stress could cause significant medical issues when the body is unable to cool itself and maintain a healthy temperature.
“Normally, the body cools itself by sweating, but sometimes sweating isn’t enough and the body temperature keeps on rising,” he said.
“Heat-related illnesses can range from mild conditions such as rash or cramps to very serious ailments such as heat stroke which can kill.
“Over exertion in hot weather, poorly ventilated or confined areas can increase the risk of heat stress. Heat can also make an existing medical condition worse, for example heart disease.”
People with heart disease, high blood pressure, lung diseases and on medication for mental illness were also likely to suffer from heat related illnesses.
Dr Monyamane said while everyone was vulnerable to heat-related illnesses, they were more prevalent among people over 65 years of age, babies and young children as well as pregnant and nursing mothers.
To stem the effects of heat stress, he said people should drink more clean water regardless of their level of activity.
Dr Monyamane said people should not wait until they were thirsty to drink water or other cool, non-alcoholic fluids to ensure they are always hydrated.
“Avoid alcoholic beverages or drinks that contain a lot of sugar. Also don’t have extremely cold liquids, as they may cause stomach cramps,” Dr Monyamane said.
“People must avoid exposure to heat by staying out of the sun as much as possible. If they have to be outdoors, they must remember to protect themselves from the sun by covering exposed skin with lightweight clothes, using sunscreen and wearing a hat and sunglasses.”
He added: “They must also limit physical activity because too much exertion on a hot day can lead to heat stress. If you can, restrict activity to cooler times of the day.”
He added that recognising the signs and symptoms of heat-related emergencies could prevent a tragic outcome. The symptoms include extremely high body temperatures; hot dry skin; rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion and unconsciousness.