Heat Adaptation Benefits for Vulnerable groups In Africa

2023-2027. Funded by the Wellcome Trust. Bristol leads Eunice Lo, Ritah Pavin Nakanjako.

Robust evaluation of the environmental, health, and socio-economic outcomes of health adaptations are limited for Africa, especially in real-world-settings, despite high vulnerability to heat-related health risk. HABVIA aims to address these evidence gaps by gathering high-quality cohort data on physiological and mental health, alongside climate, environmental, and socio-economic information, in four heat-vulnerable study sites in South Africa and Ghana. The project will focus on two vulnerable groups, manual labourers, and informal/low-income house dwellers. As well as the development and testing of adaptation-relevant heat warning systems.

Group members Eunice Lo and Ritah Pavin Nakanjako attending HABVIA project meeting in Accra hosted by the University of Ghana’s Institute for Environment and Sanitation Studies, May 2024.


Emission-induced climate change is causing a rise in global temperatures, and an increase in the frequency and intensity of heat waves. Extended exposure to high day and nighttime temperatures and associated heat stress can increase mortality and morbidity, including an increased risk of cardiometabolic disease and mental health issues. Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is particularly high-risk due to the intersection of some of the hottest pre-existing weather conditions and extant burden of non-communicable disease. Some populations, including informal settlement dwellers, and manual labourers – who constitute >50% of SSA’s population – are doubly exposed through their housing and work environments.

The negative health impacts of excessive heat are predictable, and largely preventable with specific heat adaptation measures. However, SSA faces a widespread “adaptation deficit” and evidence for the efficacy of heat adaptation and associated health outcomes is sorely lacking in this region. Indeed, a preliminary review assessing heat adaptation interventions, indicated that of the studies conducted in SSA, only one assessed human health outcomes, and was restricted to qualitative (self-reported) outcomes. Further, most of the interventions were “experimental”, such as testing passive cooling in shacks specially constructed for the experiment, and therefore not occupied by people.

While there is growing evidence on the effectiveness of climate services in the promotion of adaptation, much of this has focused on drought, heavy rainfall, and coastal/fluvial flooding. Heat early warning has received little attention. In instances where heat early warning systems are available, little work has been conducted to tailor these products to the needs and information access channels of vulnerable communities.

Research question, aims and objectives:

Despite a high vulnerability to heat-related health risks, interventions which investigate and implement heat adaptations are lacking in sub-Saharan Africa. The HABVIA project hopes to address this evidence gap by evaluating physical and behavioural adaptations among vulnerable populations.

Project website for further information and contacts

Group members Eunice Lo and Ritah Pavin Nakanjako with HABVIA project team for meeting in Accra hosted by the University of Ghana’s Institute for Environment and Sanitation Studies, May 2024.