ACTUAL kicks off - the new SNSF Starting Grant project at ISPM

09.06.2023 – June 2023 sets the start of the ACTUAL project (Advancing research on extreme humid heat and health) funded in the last SNSF Starting Grant 2022 call. Led by the newly appointed Assistant Professor Ana M. Vicedo-Cabrera, it is a 5-year project funded with 1.7 million CHF.

ACTUAL aims to advance knowledge about the impact of humid heat on human health through developing, diversifying, and applying new methodologies, data resources, and settings beyond existing current state-of-the-art approaches in climate epidemiology. ACTUAL will help consolidate the Climate Change and Health research group at ISPM and set the ground for a novel research line on compound events and health.

Extreme heat is considered among the most hazardous environmental factors for human health. From the perspective of human physiology, hot temperatures are particularly harmful with concurrent high humidity. In the epidemiological literature, however, the role of humidity as a driver of heat stress remains unclear, and even debatable based on the contradictive findings obtained so far. Clarifying inconsistencies in the temperature-humidity-health triangle and providing reliable, robust scientific evidence on the impact of humid heat among populations is urgently needed to efficiently address health-related challenges from climate change. ACTUAL seeks to clarify these inconsistencies through a series of case studies or experiments which were carefully designed to answer the following questions: Is temperature enough to capture the effect of heat stress? or should we consider humidity as well? and, in which settings or populations? In particular, case study 0 will provide a theoretical framework showing the links between temperature, humidity and health that will support the design of three large epidemiological studies. Namely, in case study 1 the team will use a probabilistic framework to compare excess mortality estimates at extremely humid and dry heat events. In case studies 2 and 3, the team will derive vulnerability profiles to humid heat by summarizing risks from mortality and hospitalization data from a worldwide database, and from data collected through commercial wristbands, respectively. Finally, case study 4 aims to assess the impact of humid heat on health among a high-risk population, specifically the city of Basse Santa Su and the surrounding region (The Gambia in Sub-Saharan Africa).

The project will count on the collaboration of renowned researchers in the various fields relevant to the project, ranging from physiologists to climate scientists and epidemiologists. The overarching goal of ACTUAL is to extend the frontiers of research on the impact of extreme weather hazards and climate change on human health and to set up the groundwork for new research paths that address more ambitious research questions (e.g., the impact of compound weather events on human health).