Excellent bachelor thesis on global health

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’Much more research is needed,’ concludes TUM student Friederike Suh
’Much more research is needed,’ concludes TUM student Friederike Suhr, who wrote an excellent bachelor's thesis with Janina Steinert, Professor for Global Health at the TUM School of Social Sciences & Technology.

Congratulations on your award from the GMDS for your bachelor thesis! What was the topic of your thesis?

I investigated how floods impact population health in Sub-Saharan Africa via a systematic review. I focused on quantitative studies, synthesizing and assessing the current state of research. My thesis looks at a total of ten studies, nine of which point to an increased susceptibility to diseases such as malaria and cholera after flood exposure.

I assume focus is placed more on droughts, especially regarding undernutrition and malnutrition, and less on floods. This is alarming, given the climate forecasts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the effects of floods on food security, in a region in which much of the population directly depends on agriculture. An additional factor is that many sub-Saharan African countries’ disaster preparedness is not well established. One reason for the absence of studies on mental health could also be a general lack of data on the topic.

Sub-Saharan Africa and flooding aren’t necessarily two things we would immediately associate with one another...

That’s right, we might first think of droughts. But floods and droughts can be two sides of the same coin. Floods, combined with population growth, urbanization and unplanned infrastructure, already present major challenges to cities such as Dar es Salaam in Tanzania today.

That’s cause for great concern and makes the consequences of extreme weather events for human health even more visible. It really makes me reflect when I think about the fact that vulnerability to extreme weather events is disproportionately higher in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the economic resources are at the same time much weaker and the health care systems are considerably more fragile and already under stress due to diseases like HIV and malaria. There’s a much larger underlying issue here: Africa’s historically low contribution to climate change on the one hand, and its vulnerability to the consequences of climate change on the other.

As a young person and scientist, don’t you lose your optimism looking at these developments?

There are many negative developments. Climate change is one of them and is a threat which demands urgent action. But there are also many positive developments. It ultimately depends on the time frame you’re looking at. I think it’s important not to forget the long-term, positive trends. For example, the last few decades have also seen enormous progress in terms of access to health care and education. There are plenty of reasons to stay optimistic.

And now in October you’ll be heading for Oxford for three months as a Junior Visiting Scholar.

That’s right! There I’ll have the opportunity to dive even deeper into my bachelor’s thesis topic. During my research stay in the "Climate Econometrics" group I’ll concentrate on econometric methods for further research into the impacts that extreme weather events have on population health. I’m especially happy to have already met two "buddies" here at TUM who will be at Oxford at the same time. That already makes me feel like I’ll be at home!