Sabine Gabrysch is Germany's first professor for climate change and health. Visit to a doctor who makes global diagnoses.


September 13, 2019, 8:55 pmEdit on September 13, 2019, 8:55 pmTIME No. 38/2019

The apple is a popular symbol, from the biblical paradise to the decision of Paris. The red-cheeked variety Jakob-Fischer, which Sabine Gabrysch brought from the garden of her Swabian grandfather, is robust, rich in vitamins, a contribution to biodiversity. He stands for their big goal: "healthy people on a healthy planet". The perfect snack for Germany's first professor to explore the relationships between climate change and health.

The medical doctor and epidemiologist is still working in Heidelberg, her schedule is correspondingly tight in Berlin, with planning meetings in the Charité and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), with congress visits and interviews. She sits at the kitchen table of a friendly colleague in Wedding, and she closes the laptop to answer the question: Why is there such a professorship only now?

Finally, it is obvious that rising temperatures could cause heat stress and more cardiovascular disease. And perhaps there will soon be new disease-transmitting mosquito species in Europe. So should not more physicians be interested in climate change? The 43-year-old asks the counter question: "Maybe such effects are just too obvious?" After all, some physicians have long been working on issues such as municipal heat plans for hospitals.

Gabrysch, on the other hand, keeps thinking. And she thinks bigger. She is interested in the global dimensions that have health. Their injustices would be overlooked until today. And with increasing global warming, they came to a head.

Together with her research team, she has observed in Bangladesh that people no longer have enough to eat when the monsoon season begins too soon. Bad harvests especially affect those who have little. How do such existential imponderables affect physical and mental health? How do people meet their needs? Now Gabrysch gets going, passionately supporting the flow of speech with armrests: that's what she wants to explore! Above all, "How to arm those affected? Which fruits and cultivation methods defy weather extremes better and prevent imminent malnutrition?"

In such analyzes, it is important to combine complex fields: climate models, agricultural and landscape information, nutritional cultures, health data and their interpretation - all interdisciplinary and specific regional. This is extremely complicated and demanding. Even so, there are hardly any such studies so far: "It is better to research on tablets, which are the same everywhere."

Gabrysch wants to catch up with the agricultural economists of the PIK in Potsdam. Its director, Ottmar Edenhofer, has been holding talks with doctors from the Institute for Public Health of the Berlin Charité for years. But first it took two disciplines and institutions together. Then you had to find the right candidate.