Since I started medical school in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1971, I was always concerned about population health. My residency in community health in one of the city’s slums convinced me that treating sick people – who came back repeatedly to our health centre with the same recurring problems – was not the most efficient way of improving their health, and led me into prevention and epidemiology. Among all sick people with whom I had contact, I was most touched by young children suffering from undernutrition, diarrhoea and other infections, and I decided to focus my efforts on finding out how to improve their state.
After a doctorate in epidemiology in the United Kingdom, I went back to Pelotas in the extreme south of Brazil, and dedicated my career to doing research on breastfeeding, undernutrition and child infections. I helped set up the 1982 Pelotas birth cohort study, which is still ongoing, and carried out research that helped establish the role of breastfeeding on the prevention of infant mortality. Living in one of the most unequal countries in the world in the 1970s and 1980s, a major concern with inequalities in health was built into all my research endeavours.
My current work is focused on three themes, as follows. Life-course epidemiology with the sustained study of the three Pelotas birth cohorts (1982, 1993 and 2004); inequalities in health; and the evaluation of interventions to improve the health of mothers and children. My interests have taken me beyond Brazil, to help carry out several research projects in Africa, Asia and other Latin American countries. I am fortunate to have spent over three decades doing work that I care about, and to have helped train a wonderful team of epidemiologists in Pelotas.
MD (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul) and PhD (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine).