How environmental problems create diseases – interview with Dr. Nicole de Paula

Dr. Nicole de Paula is the CEO of the Global Health Asia Institute (GHAI), which aims to connect policymakers and researchers to create a public understanding on key issues related to sustainability, environment and public health. She is also team leader, writer and editor at the International Institute for Sustainable Development. Both jobs show her commitment to the health of our planet and the people living on it.

As the voices speaking about our planet’s health become louder, some people do almost forget how our human (and animal’s) health is already restricted by environmental problems. People tend to see our environment as an isolated aspect of political discussions.

We met Dr. Nicole de Paula at the Global Female Leaders summit 2019 and she explained, how those two factors are related to each other. This article gives the first impression of the interview. If you want to listen to de Paula’s method of uniting environmental and health issues, you should watch the whole video on our YouTube channel.


Going out for a walk is healthy – at least, most of us assume that. You are giving your body the movement it needs – especially if you sit in front of a screen the whole day and the only walk you do is going to the coffee machine and back to your desk. You are breathing fresh air and feeling the vitamins given by sunlight on your skin. Your mind clears up.

But what if this assumption is no longer true? In fact, going for a walk in cities like Bangkok and even London can be dangerous nowadays. The air pollution is so massive that your lungs are filled with toxic air when walking down the Hyde Park. These toxins can have detrimental effects on your health, creating chronic diseases, cancer, etc.

When you have no clean air, you are missing a human right.

Dr. Nicole de Paula, CEO at Global Health Asia Institute (GHAI)

Air pollution is not the only problem impacting our health. Ocean pollution, like microplastics, undermines the wellbeing too. Toxins get in our food chain and from there right into our bodies. The problem is bigger than expected. This is not a future forecast – we are facing it right now. Dr. de Paula is one of the messengers, making people aware of this problem and helping them to connect while working on solutions.


Dr. Nicole de Paula thinks that pollution is not the only problem. The difficulty is to stop blaming someone else for it. North and south countries – developed and developing countries – are discussing since years, who should start with environmental changes. This debate has to stop now.

If we continue on this path, we would need many globes. And we need to understand that there is only one earth – no planet B. Of course, we currently debate about settling on Mars, but until our scientists are far enough to settle on another planet, it can be too late. At this moment, we only have our earth.

Developing countries need to develop in a smarter way if they want to be sustainable. Leaders in those countries understand that.

Dr. Nicole de Paula, CEO at Global Health Asia Institute (GHAI)

The power of Asian countries increases – so does their responsibility for the health of millions. Dr. de Paula explains further in our interview, how China, for example, is taking advantage of that.

Even if the Global Health Asia Institute has its roots in Asia, the main question nowadays is: How to bring together scientists to work on solutions for sustainability? Finding answers to this question is essential, as the dimension of the problem is so big that it crosses borders. Therefore, the solution cannot be found by only one part of the world. We need to work together.

Dr. Nicole de Paula outlines that many institutes have not understood the need of connection yet. So far we have been thinking in fragmented ways. At universities, you are concentrated on only one scientific field. We need institutes to understand that if you are tackling problems of the 21st century, more trans-disciplinarily is required – not only adding more disciplines, but also enhancing more perspectives. For example, it would be a good idea to let local communities participate in projects. Co-developing, co-sharing, co-creating knowledge are only three of the key sources for solution.


Global aims are summarized as the 17 SDGs. It is a good start that the private sector already began to change their thinking and behavior, but businesses have to be part of that development. There is no other option, as they have more power than they realized until now.

To solve the environmental crisis, we do not only need to find new technology – we also need the right leaders. Children all over the world started to demonstrate and to ask adults to be better leaders focusing on environment and health. It is time to hear that request. It is time for action.

Dr. Nicole de Paula spreads this message in the world – so did she during the Global Female Leaders summit 2019. If you are interested in deeper discussions around this topic, you should definitely watch our interview video!

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are not perfect, but they are our best bet.

Dr. Nicole de Paula, CEO at Global Health Asia Institute (GHAI)
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