LSHTM and Stanford announce three new Postdoctoral Fellows in Planetary Health

Stella Atim, Alandra Lopez and Minghao Qiu will focus on diseases spread from animals to humans, the health risks of wildfire smoke and air pollution.
Headshots of Planetary Health Fellows

The Centre on Climate Change & Planetary Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Stanford University’s Center for Innovation in Global Health, are proud to announce a new cohort of Postdoctoral Fellows in Planetary Health: Stella Atim, Alandra Lopez and Minghao Qiu. The fellows will focus on diseases spread from animals to humans (zoonoses), the health risks of wildfire smoke, and air pollution, respectively.

The Planetary Health Fellowship is a joint postdoctoral programme created in 2020 by LSHTM and Stanford to support early-career researchers to develop expertise in planetary health. Planetary health is a rapidly growing area of research that  addresses the impacts on population health from climate change, land use change, and other forms of environmental degradation, including air pollution, wildfires and zoonoses. Planetary Health recognises that human health and environmental health are inextricably linked and co-dependent. Fellowship funders and partners include the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Stanford’s Sean N Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma ResearchCenter on Food Security and the Environment, and Woods Institute for the Environment, and Bob and Kathy Burke.

With increasing pressure on countries to meet sustainable development goals and halt accelerating climate and environmental challenges, understanding these complex links is critical. The fellowship programme works to fill key gaps – helping fellows undertake the interdisciplinary research needed to propose novel, evidence-based solutions for safeguarding human health on a changing planet.

Michele Barry, Director of the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health, said: “This year’s incredibly impressive cohort of Planetary Health Fellows promises to offer valuable insights into the ways we can better protect human health from the devastating impacts of climate change and environmental degradation.”

Sari Kovats, Associate Professor at LSHTM’s Centre on Climate Change and Planetary Health, said: “These fellowships will create a new generation of scholars who are able to address the key questions of our time. Our current and future Fellows will develop the skills to support countries to develop effective measures to address the challenges of global environmental change.”

About the Fellows: 

Headshot of Stella Atim

Stella Atim

Stella Atim, is completing her PhD in emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases from Makerere University and University of Glasgow, where she has been investigating the epidemiology of deadly Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever (CCHF) in livestock farming communities along the cattle corridor in Uganda. Blood tests have found extremely high rates of CCHF antibodies along this corridor, raising concerns that environmental factors could be exacerbating the tick-borne illness.

She will be located at the MRC/UVRI and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit, where she will investigate environmental factors that might be contributing to the high prevalence of CCHF in Uganda. She will model man-made change and climatic factors that may be driving a shift in the geographical range of ticks associated with the disease, as well as changes in livestock farming practices associated with exposure. 

“Uganda is undergoing substantial changes in land use, population growth, deforestation and weather changes including erratic rains, floods, mudslides and warming that are likely to increase the prevalence of ticks and the risk of tick-borne infections,” she said.

She hopes the data she gathers can help inform a public health early warning system in Uganda and help to reduce the risk of CCHF spreading to other countries.

Headshot of Alandra Lopez

Alandra Lopez, PhD

Alandra Lopez, PhD, is a recent graduate of the Department of Earth Science at Stanford where she worked alongside Scott Fendorf, exploring the environmental and man-made factors driving the release of harmful contaminants into the environment.

Based at Stanford for this fellowship, Lopez hopes to use Stanford and LSHTM expertise in soil chemistry and mineralogy, air quality modelling, and respiratory and pulmonary health to investigate the health impacts of smoke from wildfires that are increasing in intensity and frequency across the globe. 

Lopez will assess the prevalence and health impacts of potentially harmful metals in wildfire smoke – geogenic metals found in nature that get released during wildfires – to develop strategies to mitigate human exposure. She hopes to identify policies and interventions that can protect firefighters, outdoor workers, and communities impacted by wildfires in order to decrease their risks for lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“The Planetary Health Postdoctoral Fellowship is the ideal opportunity for me to further integrate environmental science and health in my research, focusing on solutions-oriented approaches to global wildfire smoke exposure in collaboration with impacted communities and planetary health leaders at Stanford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine,” she said.

Headshot of Minghao Qiu

Minghao Qiu, PhD

Minghao Qiu received his PhD degree from MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society in 2021 and has worked at Stanford’s Department of Earth System Science with Dr Marshall Burke. 

He is driven to investigate the linkages between climate change and air pollution, and policies that could help to mitigate their negative impacts on humans. Since witnessing the disastrous “Beijing Haze” in the winter of 2013, he has been passionate about understanding the complex relationships between health, pollution, and climate, as well as finding solutions addressing these environmental challenges.

During his fellowship based at Stanford, Qiu will  explore the health impacts of climate-induced air pollution around the world – with attention to factors such as wildfire smoke and dust storms. He’ll do so by leveraging household health surveys, as well as remotely-sensed environmental data. He hopes his findings can be used to better understand the full impacts of climate change – and identify policy solutions that can simultaneously achieve environmental justice, environmental quality, and sustainable development goals.

“I am always excited about extending my research to places where it is needed the most and look forward to contributing to the current planetary health research at Stanford and LSHTM in areas like Sub-Saharan Africa,” he said. “I look forward to working with local researchers and communities in the field to better understand their priorities and shape my research in ways that help inform decisions.”

This new cohort will join the first cohort of Planetary Health Fellows Dr Britt Wray and Dr Elaine Flores-Ramos who have been working on the impact of climate change on mental health.

Applications for the next cohort of Planetary Health Fellows will open in 2023. Stay tuned for updates by subscribing to our newsletter and following @LSHTM_Planet on Twitter.

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