Skip to content
Main menu hidden.
Published: 2023-11-14

Goal: increased knowledge about the climate and associated health risks

PROFILE Maria Nilsson is Professor of Public Health with specialisation in climate change and health. She is driven by producing and communicating research-based information, so that decision-makers, industry, other actors and people in general have the facts about what has to be done to prevent climate change from leading to increased ill health and spread of diseases in the world.

Image: Mattias Pettersson

There are many and important reasons to react – and act. Climate change, with an increased mean temperature on earth, can lead to, among other things, heart disease and vascular disorders, respiratory illnesses, infectious diseases and mental ill health. Other possible consequences are an increase in tick-borne diseases and the establishment of new disease-borne vectors, and a change in the pattern of spread of existing infectious diseases.

Such effects would have been seen as unlikely a few years ago.

“With the prevailing climate trend, dengue fever, which has so far mainly been found in the southern hemisphere, could become established in Southern Europe within a few decades and lead to outbreaks in Northern Europe,” says Maria Nilsson.

“Held my nose and jumped in”

Maria Nilsson trained as a social worker in Umeå. After a ten-year trip to Stockholm, she began working in public health in Västerbotten County Council. Maria Nilson eventually defended her doctoral thesis in epidemiology and public health in the Faculty of Medicine at Umeå University. 

In connection with the defence of her doctoral thesis, the office management asked if Maria Nilsson would undertake to coordinate the setting up of research practice specialising in climate and health.

“It was definitely not an obvious choice; it was a new field for me, but ‘I held my nose and jumped in’.”

Responsibility for others

A clear driving force for Maria Nilsson is an ethical approach to the research. It is about the necessity to increase knowledge and to make it available to many people. This is to allow as many as possible to make well-grounded choices for short- and long-term climate gains, and about collaboration from local to global level.

We must of course think about future generations.

“Those of us in the richer part of the world carry the main responsibility for climate change and have a responsibility to lead the transition work and contribute to the protection and development of low-income countries. It is also clear that those who suffer most from the health effects are those who are already affected, for example by chronic disease. There is also a greater risk to the elderly, pregnant women and young children, and we must of course think about future generations. There are many ethical dimensions,” explains Maria Nilsson.

Many important assignments

Over the years, Maria Nilsson has been given many important assignments. Since the start in 2016 of the global project ‘Lancet Countdown 2030 on Health and Climate Change’, she is co-author of an annual report up until 2030, which is published ahead of the global climate meetings, and a member of the project board. One important development in the work is to establish regional centres, which today include researchers from all over the world, and Maria is Chair of Lancet Countdown in Europe. Maria is also a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ Health Committee and chief editor of the journal Global Health Action, among other things.

Umeå University = spirit of cooperation

Another positive thing linked to Maria’s research subject is the prevailing working climate at Umeå University. Here, Maria Nilsson is frank and spontaneous:

“I really like working at Umeå University; there is a good spirit of cooperation. When I contact colleagues, they are interested and often want to work together. The only thing I would wish for from the University is a clearer sustainability profile.”

“I also enjoy living and working in Umeå. It is safe and also close to nature and many other good things.”