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ROME - The Italian government's strategy to move the elderly to supermarkets to prevent their exposure to deadly summer heat raised controversy yesterday among those who believe the creation of a public register of those at risk violates their right to privacy, as well as their dignity, according to the British newspaper the Independent.
Italy's health minister, Girolamo Sirchia, has told local authorities to make a list of all Italians over the age of 65 whose health might be endangered if there is a summer heatwave. The plan would be to move them to supermarkets and other public places with air conditioning.
As Italy has one of the oldest populations in Europe, those on the list could number as many as 12 million, or one in four of the population. Mr Sirchia's order came as a result of the extreme heat Europe experienced last summer. Over 7,500 elderly Italians died as temperatures soared, while up to 60,000 seniors died in France during a much hotter-than-average July. France has a list similar to Italy's in the works, but there registration is voluntary.
Factors Italian health officials are taking into consideration when deciding if a person over 65 is at risk during a heat wave are whether they live alone, in low-income neighborhoods, and/or in apartment buildings without elevators, and whether they've recently been hospitalized. As part of an initial experiment, volunteers will be hired to watch out for some 25,000 seniors in Rome, Milan, Genoa, and Turin, the cities worst affected by last summer's heat.
Opponents find the supermarket plan particularly risible. According to Dr Vincenzo Marigliano, a geriatric specialist from Rome's La Sapienza University, air conditioning in supermarkets would probably be too strong, and such places were stressful and inappropriate. He suggested taking the elderly to the movies instead.
In defense of the strategy, Donato Greco, coordinator of the antiheat campaign at the health ministry, told the Milan daily newspaper Corriere della Serra: "We simply repeated the advice of the World Health Organization, which recommends that in the event of unbearable and prolonged heat the elderly should be taken to places which have air conditioning. "We don't want to put granddad in the supermarket [cart], and anyone who says we do is guilty of ignoble deceit."