Conversation with Monika Gappa

This month, we spoke to Monika Gappa, the new President of the European Respiratory Society.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

Following medical school, I first trained to be a paediatrician at the Hannover Medical School Children’s Hospital. Working on a unit with many patients with respiratory diseases, I soon discovered my special interest in paediatric respiratory diseases. For many years, the main focus of my research was lung function from infancy to childhood. I was very lucky to become research fellow with Prof. Janet Stocks at the Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, UK. It was during this time that I first got in contact with the European Respiratory Society (ERS) and the international paediatric respiratory community.

Just before the pandemic started, I became Director of the Department of Paediatrics at the Evangelisches Krankenhaus in Düsseldorf, Germany, where I still have a dedicated research team and continue to collaborate in national and international research projects.

Outside of my career, I enjoy family life with my husband and 2 grown-up daughters; I love sports, as well as playing and listening to classical music.

Why did you want to be the ERS President?

When asked whether I would consider standing for the ERS Presidential election, I saw it as a huge honour and a unique opportunity to strengthen the paediatric respiratory community and to promote the idea that lung health starts in infancy — or even before birth. I had always immensely enjoyed being part of the ERS community, including of course all of the patient-related activities from ELF. I have worked with excellent colleagues and contributed to the many ERS activities, starting as Scientific Group Secretary and Chair, chairing the joint ERS/ATS Working Group of Infant Lung Function Testing, as Assembly Secretary or later as Chair of the Paediatric HERMES Task Force. Over the years I have gained so much from being an active member of ERS. I hope to give something back to ERS and ELF, especially my paediatric colleagues and young people with lung conditions.

What do you hope to achieve in your presidency?

I really hope that the coming year will help to increase awareness that respiratory health starts early in life, that most lung diseases diagnosed in adults have some origin in childhood and that we must work together if we really want to make a difference. We need to work on reducing inequalities in risk factors as well as access to care, and this is true in the European area as well as globally. In addition, I hope to further strengthen the development of ERS as a sustainable society and to continue the excellent advocacy work towards reducing air pollution and fighting climate change.

What role do you see for ELF in achieving these goals?

The partnership between ERS and ELF is superb. Only by listening to patients, can we effectively advocate for lung health. I hope to continue working with ELF to increase awareness and successfully advocate for respiratory health and early prevention. I believe we, as healthcare professionals, can better reach out to patients to provide evidence-based information, if we listen to the invaluable patient input provided by ELF.

ELF is currently setting up a youth patient committee to give young people with lung conditions a stronger voice in the organisation. As a paediatrician, why do you think it’s important that we hear young people’s perspectives?

Respiratory disease has a big impact on children and young people. It is not well known that lung health starts in utero, where the unborn baby can already be exposed to air pollution and tobacco smoke through the mother. But children usually do not have the ability to advocate for themselves or to change the environment they will live in. I hope that ELF can help to amplify the voice of young patients so that policy makers can hear them – and to include their perspective in the ERS and ELF strategy.

What are you looking forward to most in the coming year?

It is a great experience to meet so many excellent colleagues, professionals and patients engaged in the respiratory field. I am really looking forward to supporting ERS and ELF in all their important projects and contributing wherever I can to increase awareness of the early origins of lung conditions, opportunities for prevention, fighting air pollution and climate change and reducing inequalities.