Is climate change a global health emergency? Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) have joined forces to create the first-ever Professorship for Climate Change and Health in any German medical school*. Its purpose will be to study the links between climate change and population health. The physician and epidemiologist Prof. Dr. Dr. Sabine Gabrysch has now been appointed.
Climate change has a range of impacts on human health. Prof. Gabrysch aims to explore such impacts and to evaluate potential solutions. “Until now, research has primarily focused on heat waves and the spread of tropical infectious diseases,” says Prof. Gabrysch. “However, food and nutrition security are also at risk when the rains fail or when they are excessive, or when they set in either too early or too late.” Those most at risk are poorer people in low-income countries with inadequate social security systems. “When frequent droughts, for example, lead to maternal malnutrition during pregnancy, this can cause lasting damage to the unborn child – with lifelong repercussions for their health and well-being”, explains Prof. Gabrysch. “In my research, I particularly focus on nutrition as it is such an important link between the environment and health.” At the PIK, Prof. Gabrysch will work closely with agricultural economists who study interactions between agriculture and climate change.
One of Prof. Gabrysch's research projects will be exploring the impacts of agricultural change on diets and health of different population subgroups in low- and middle-income countries. “At the same time, I want to evaluate the effectiveness and scale-up options of ‘win-win solutions’ – that is solutions which benefit both human health and the environment”, she adds. “Examples range from agroecological farming practices to pedestrian- and bike-friendly cities.”
Prof. Gabrysch, trained as a physician and epidemiologist, does not intend to focus exclusively on climate change, but plans to place her research within the wider context of ‘planetary health’. This means also taking into account other global environmental changes, such as soil degradation and biodiversity loss. “The long-term goal is: healthy people on a healthy planet,” emphasizes Prof. Gabrysch. “I hope my research will contribute to improving the health of human beings worldwide while, at the same time, helping to stabilize the natural systems on which we as humans depend.”
As part of her appointment, Prof. Gabrysch is heading the Research Department "Climate Resilience" at PIK. The new professorship is attached to Charité’s Institute of Public Health, with additional funding provided by Stiftung Charité. With her expertise, Prof. Gabrysch will also support Charité’s dedicated center for global health research, Charité Global Health.
*The original text of the press release was updated on 9 October 2019.
Short biography - Sabine Gabrysch
Following her medical studies at the Universities of Tübingen and Heidelberg in Germany and Brown University in the United States, Sabine Gabrysch completed a doctoral research degree in medicine at the University of Tübingen. After working as a junior doctor in Sweden for some years, she embarked on an MSc in epidemiology, and later a PhD, at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. From there, she moved on to Heidelberg University’s Institute of Global Health in 2009, where she completed her ‘habilitation’ and was appointed Head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Unit and Deputy Director of the Institute in 2014. In 2018, Sabine Gabrysch was awarded the ‘Preis für mutige Wissenschaft’ (Award for Bold Research) by the state of Baden-Württemberg for her research project in Bangladesh.
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