Sophie Vanwambeke / Professor

UCLouvain / Medical geography

The translation of this testimony was generated automatically by a translation program. Thanks for your understanding.

My research focuses on how the way humans interact with the environment affects the risk of getting into contact with diseases. Tick-borne diseases are such an example that is familiar to many Belgians. How does our use of the landscape, for example when we visit forests and other natural environments, affects our “chance” to meet a tick? How does the way we shape landscapes affects the chance that ticks will be found? My team uses tools of geography, such as data on the environment drawn from satellite imagery and maps, to study how risk varies in space and time. Diseases associated to the environment are a concern in the context of global environmental change. While climate affects these systems as they affect any natural systems, many other factors are important. When a disease, such as Chikungunya, or a disease vector, such as the tiger mosquito, are able to colonize new areas, the role of movements of people and goods, and the local life, health and infrastructure conditions play also a very significant role.
While my research shows me up close the “dark side” of nature, I am keen outdoor visitor. Having grown in the countryside and now being a parent in an urban setting, I am very sensitive to issues related to the disconnection that many children have nowadays with nature, and questions related to access to the outdoors for children in their daily life touch me. This to me is a very immediate societal concern. While it can be tackled at a very local level by making green spaces accessible and attractive to children and facilitating walking and cycling for families, it plugs directly into broader issues such as greenhouse gas emissions related to transportation. As a parent, I have been active in my local section of la Ligue des familles to promote cycling for families, as well as cycling to school and other family activities. This is mostly looked at positively, but unfortunately, one has to be prepared for the fact that (some) people do not feel there is space to spare for children pedestrians or cyclists (even as they follow the traffic code!), and that many places simply have no or poor infrastructure for walkers and cyclists.

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