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:
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 how beneficial fans are in extreme heat waves. The current WHO position advices to restrictive use of fans above temperatures of 35ºC. Above this temperature the cooling benefits from fans is diminished. , “
However, recent studies suggest that there might be a greater indication 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 here.
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:
The question of his thesis is: “Do German, International and local policy makers consider health arguments to make households‘ behavior more climate friendly?
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 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 knowledge of prevention of adverse heat effects most would suggest “If patients come during an adverse heat event, I may consider reducing the dose of diuretics…”, highlighting the non-systematic approach to prevention.
What could be done potentially to improve? Alina proposed a list of interventions that could be put on the agenda:
Finally, any measures should be integrated in the GPs daily routine and workflow. An outline of the project (in German) can be found here.
Originally coming from New Zealand, Aditi Bunker is a PhD student at the University of Heidelberg. When she negotiated her thesis with her now-supervisor, she stated that she wasn’t good with calculations and maths. Proving herself wrong she is heavily engaged in quantitative research and did a systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiological evidence entitled“temperature-related climate sensitive diseases in the elderly“. After overcoming the initial research questions such as “how to define elderly people ?”(there is no universal definition), she selected 18 mortality and 22 hospitalization time-series and case-crossover regression studies, across 43 locations and spanning periods of 3 to 21 years for analysis. The different diseases were then grouped (e.g. Heart Failure, Atrial Fibrillation etc. as Cardio-Vascular Diseases).
She found out that the mortality of elderly people with respiratory diseases is most affected.
Also, diseases like diabetes and renal failure showed sensitivity in morbidity.
Interesting questions arising from the discussion included whether pooling of all studies gives valid information, addressing confounders like air pollution control, which is different in every area that alsohas a major impacts.
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 identify interventions, push for integrated care for elderly and empower them. Find an abstract of her study she presented earlier this year here.
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.
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
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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