First CVV’s Young Researchers Scientific Seminar

On December 10th the Centre Virchow-Villermé opened its doors at the Paris office for the very first young researchers networking event. Only two days before the end of COP21 where the historical climate-agreement was reached, our topic was more than clear: “Climate Change and Health“. 

Chaired by Prof Rainer Sauerborn from the University of Heidelberg, Anneliese Depoux, Executive Director at CVV Paris and Stephanie Schütte, post-doctoral student in Climate Change at CVV Paris, 7 young researchers came together and presented their current projects getting both, useful feedback and valuable inputs for their future work. The participants were from research institutes in Berlin, Paris and Heidelberg representing a broad range of nationalities: New Zealand, Canada, Burkina Faso, Germany and France. Lively discussion fueled by the interest in each other’s work led to voluntary extra hours!

After a short introduction to the ClimCom-Project (http://virchowvillerme.eu/de/climcom-an-interdisciplinary-research-team-for-communicating-about-climate-change-health/) and what the Center does in Climate Change related issues, we directly moved to presenting our projects:

  1. Fans just move air. Really ?

Nathan Morris from Calgary/Canada started off with presenting a study he is conducting for his PhD at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney. He focuses his research on the question of how beneficial fans are in extreme heat waves. The current WHO position advises to restrictive the use of fans above temperatures of 35ºC. Above this temperature the cooling benefits from fans is diminished.

However, recent studies from the Thermal Ergonomics Laboratory in Sydney suggest that there might be a greater application for their use – even beyond 35°C. To further explore the potential beneficial effects, Nathan and his colleagues set up a Heatwave Simulation Lab where they model different extreme heat events and assess physiological parameters of healthy volunteers’.

Using this method they are aiming to generate evidence to improve policies regarding fan use in extreme heat. Preliminary results suggest that a wider use of fans may be beneficial. In his next steps Nathan will focus on the different heat responses in women and men, young and old and the efficacy of interventions. Learn more about Nathan’s studies here and the simulation lab.

  1. Talking to policy makers – How researchers can implement their results by addressing the right people :

Next up was Frederic Neuendorf, PhD student at the University of Heidelberg with a background in political science who addressed the Question of “How to communicate science to policy makers?“ within the HOPE-Project (Household Preferences for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Four European High Income Countries). He explained a few key-rules when communicating science:

  • Address actors on the national, international and local level!
  • Talk to actors within the Health-Sector AND outside.
  • Show that your message is interdisciplinary!
  • Keep it as simple as possible!
  • Always find the right person to talk to.
  •  Barriers:
    • The key person responsible is not available for discussions.
    • Studies and results come too late – the political process is already over.
    • Researchers do not understand political reality (decisions depend on electoral periods, often need to involve various departments…)
    • No budget for interventions.
    • Weak scientific evidence.

The question of his thesis is: “Do German, International and local policy makers consider health arguments to make households’ behavior more climate friendly?

  1. How can German General Practioners be equipped well enough to fight and prevent adverse heat effects on elderly’s health?

Alina Vandenbergh is currently in the last steps of her MD-thesis at the University of Heidelberg, where she recently finished her medical studies. In her qualitative study she conducted expert interviews with 24 General Practitioners (GPs) in Baden-Württemberg/Germany. She first asked GP’s for their perceptions of climate related patients’ visits. Most GPs stated that they would see a connection in between elderly patients’ visits and heat related stressors, but didn’t perceive them as major cause.

When it comes to the current practice of prevention of adverse heat effects GPs seem to implement some prevention measures, but in a non-systematic and fragmented way.

What could be done potentially to improve? Combining literature research and GPs’ practitional knowledge four fields of action were identified :

  1. Process adaption in doctor’s office, for example planning patients visits for elderly when the temperatures are not the highest.
  2. Adaption of medication, always on an individual basis.
  3. Information of patients, for example via leaflets in the waiting room.
  4. Contact measures, involve formal and informal care-givers, for example to  be in charge of calling their family members during heat waves.

Finally, any measures should be integrated in the GPs daily routine and workflow. An outline of the project (in German) can be found here.

  1. Respiratory Diseases are most temperature-sensitive in elderly

Originally coming from New Zealand, Aditi Bunker is a PhD student at the University of Heidelberg. Aditi is heavily engaged in quantitative research, and conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of the association between temperature and cause-specific mortality and morbidity outcomes. Defining the elderly population at a global level was identified as a challenge, given the lack of a universal definition., The search strategy retrieved 20 mortality and 35 morbidity time-series and case-crossover regression studies, across 62 locations and spanning periods of 3 to 26 years for analysis. The different diseases were then grouped based on the international classification of disease (ICD).

The results show that both low and high temperatures increase in the risk of cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and particularly respiratory mortality in the elderly..

Interestingly, the risk of heat induced diabetes, renal and infectious morbidity outcomes are sensitive to heat exposure, and anticipated to grow in importance with climate change and ageing.

Interesting questions arising from the discussion included how to capture the temperature related risks in underrepresented geographic regions and addressing confounders like air pollution.

Now having a great overview of the literature, Aditi stated:”Mental health is clearly understudied“ For her the outcomes of the study are clear: There is a need to prevent heat and cold related deaths and illnesses, and push for integrated care for elderly. Find an abstract of her study she presented earlier this yearr here.

  1. Connection between short-terms effect of weather and mortality in Nouna (Burkina Faso)

Eric Diboulo is conducting a PhD in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel. In his study he obtained Meteorological data from a nearby weather station in the Nouna HDSS area and linked it to mortality data on a daily basis. He established time series Poisson regression models to estimate the association between the lags of weather and daily population-level mortality, adjusting for time trends. Mortality patterns appear to be closely related to weather conditions. Interestingly those under five years of age appear more susceptible to hot temperatures, while the elderly population is more susceptible to increasing levels of rainfall.

The study concludes: “Further investigation on cause-specific mortality, as well as on vulnerability and susceptibility is required.“ read more here.

  1. Global Health Education – examples from Berlin

Finally, Fabian Moser and Peter Grabitz presented their activities in the field of Global Health Education: Peter is part of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines a students initiative campaigning for equal access to medicines – worldwide. Together with the Bundesverband der Medizinstudierenden in Deutschland (BVMD), the German medical students association he is conducting a study on German medical faculties and their engagement in Global Health. Therefore they use questionnaires and collect public data to measure

  1. the faculties Innovations in Global Health relevant fields,
  2. the access to innovations and knowledge (Open Access) faculties grant to the public
  3. if faculties empower their students in Global Health

Results are due early next year and they are planning a ranking as it is already established for the UK and North America. A similar project could be applicable for French universities in the future as well.

Together with others, Fabian works on a multi-method study that aims to provide the first comprehensive overview and analysis of existing educational opportunities on Global Health in Germany. It further seeks to assess the current state, perceived gaps and barriers of Global Health Education in Germany and recommends future strategies.

Also, Fabian leads a transdisciplinary Global Health students group at Charité discussing different topics in the field of Global Health in weekly journal club meetings and expert sessions. This term’s topic is “Global Mental Health – Refugees in Berlin“ and addresses the situation of the around 68.000 refugees that arrived in Berlin in 2015. The group seeks to identify barriers at various levels (legal, cultural, implementational, political) and will wrap up this term with a multi-stakeholder conference and workshop on the 16th of January in Berlin.

By Peter Grabitz and Fabian Moser.

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