What with the hole in the ozone layer, the greenhouse phenomenon and genetically modified foods, the environment is under attack from every direction. Air, food and water pollution has led to increasing numbers of ailments such as allergies and asthma and afflictions like cancer, and there are indications that it has deleterious effects on fertility and fetal development. Universities abroad have been offering undergraduate and postgraduate courses dealing with the interaction of mankind and the environment since the 1980s. New program However, despite encouragement for such courses from the European Union, which has formulated a common Environment-Health-Research strategy, so far no Greek university has had a health and environment department. That lack will be partially met by a new postgraduate program called Environment and Health to be offered this year by Athens University Medical School in cooperation with the Athens technical colleges and the National Research Institute. The new course will last two years and is open to all university graduates. The idea of setting up the course came from Polyxeni Nikolopoulou-Stamati, assistant professor of pathology and anatomy at Athens University and a visiting professor at the Free University of Brussels. Imprint As she told Kathimerini, the reason was simple: «The environmental issues which have arisen – such as dioxins, climate change, the ozone layer, genetically modified food, ‘mad cows’ and radioactivity – have all left their imprint on tissues, cells and DNA. «There are many environmental problems and there is a need to acquire knowledge of how to manage them. «We need to learn how to deal with problems, to find the tools and to handle them. As was noted at the International Meeting on the Environment in Johannesburg in 2002, the study of this interaction demands specialized knowledge and studies at postgraduate level. «This is where the idea came from to create this course from the laboratory of pathology and anatomy and Professor Efstratios Patsouris together with Professor Christos Zerefos for the Geology Department and Constantine Sekeris from the National Research Foundation.» Though there are postgraduate courses in the physics, chemistry and biology of the environment, environmental techniques, medical physics and work medicine, this will be the first devoted to health and the environment. As Nikolopoulou points out, health and environment courses differ from traditional ecology courses, which focus on the ecology of animals, plants, microorganisms and the overall biosphere. Health and environment courses focus on man, his health and the interaction between them in a changing environment. Interdisciplinary by nature, this course will be taught by professors of medicine, physics, chemistry, biology and ecology. The new course will meet a need, training people from varying disciplines. «Anyone who has an undergraduate degree and is interested in the subject can do the course,» says Nikolopoulou. «They need a sound knowledge of English because many of the teachers will be foreign professors.» International experience shows that the course will meet a need in the labor market. «There is a growing demand worldwide for health and environment professionals. «Society in the 21st century faces increasing health problems, making training for this new speciality a necessity,» she explained. It is expected that the demand in Greece for health and environment professionals will come from both the private and public sectors. Problems The new course will have to deal with problems. «It’s a fact that specializing in the environment and health demands the ability to understand complex subjects, such as the effect on the health of pollutants made of substances to which humans have been exposed only in the past 60 years. Legislation «Moreover, environmental specialists don’t know the effects of the environment on health and vice versa. This makes it difficult to organize research, and it will be necessary to amend and adapt legislation,» explains Nikolopoulou. She adds that the teaching staff will maintain contact with European universities that already hold such courses. Assessment will be made by teachers at European universities. Lessons will almost certainly be held in the evening, and students will be able to attend e-classes online from home. For information about applications contact the postgraduate department of Athens University Medical School, tel 210.747.2032-5. The course The compulsory subjects will ensure that students acquire the necessary knowledge to develop skill in managing health and environmental issues. The elective subjects are designed so that students acquire knowledge that is essential for their professional activity from a range of disciplines. Among the subjects offered by the postgraduate course are: basic knowledge about environmental exposure to radiation, chemical substances, dietary dangers, environmental effects on tissues, cells and DNA, the natural environment and man, and climatic disasters. The elective subjects include management of food crises (such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy and genetically modified foods), bioethics, air quality management, environmental planning and new building technologies, the economy of the environment and sustainable development, water pollution and water resource management, climate change, and environmental legislation.