Berlin As President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Lothar Wieler played a key role in shaping German corona policy – according to information from the Handelsblatt, the professor of microbiology is now dedicating himself more to science: on April 1, he will be at the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) in Potsdam.
Wieler is to become spokesman for the new “Digital Health” cluster, which deals with the digitization of medicine and healthcare. This was confirmed by the Hasso Plattner Foundation, which finances the HPI to a large extent. The new focus will include several existing professorships in the areas of “digital health” and computer science. Further positions will be advertised.
The scientist will optimally complement the existing knowledge about digital technologies “through his scientific expertise and experience in the field of public health,” explained Tobias Friedrich, Dean and one of the three managing directors of the HPI.
He played a central role in fighting the pandemic
Wieler explained that he wanted to help advance digitization in the public health sector. “This pandemic will not be the last, but we can better prepare for the next one by drawing the right conclusions and investing in research now.”
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At the beginning of January, the scientist announced that he was resigning after almost eight years at the head of the RKI. It was said that he wanted to devote himself to “new tasks in research and teaching”. As a reason for the withdrawal, companions also called the “devouring role” that the office had brought with it. The 61-year-old was a central figure in the pandemic. Especially in the early days of the corona crisis, Wieler appeared weekly at the federal press conference to explain the pandemic. Always in a suit, he reported on the current infection numbers.
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At the same time, Wieler tried to advance the institute with major digitization initiatives despite limited funds. In early 2021, for example, he announced the construction of the Center for Artificial Intelligence in Public Health Research (ZKI-PH).
With the facility, the RKI wants to analyze epidemics more comprehensively, better calculate the burden of disease and develop early warning systems. After criticism of going it alone – for example by reducing the convalescent status – Wieler appeared in public much less frequently last year. The point at the time was that this change had not been previously announced by the RKI. Many citizens lost their right to go to restaurants, bars or gyms almost overnight.
This brought Wieler sharp criticism, especially from the FDP, which called for his resignation. The reason for this was the ultimately lack of digitization of the institute. The significance of the pandemic data provided by the RKI was also discussed again and again.
When he left, however, Wieler received a lot of recognition for his work. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) said that he had “made lasting and outstanding contributions to the country” in dealing with the pandemic. Without him “Germany would have come through this pandemic much worse”.
However, the fact that he is now going back to research should be a relief for Wieler. He is very knowledgeable about science. In the 1980s he studied veterinary medicine in Berlin and Munich. He received his doctorate there in 1988 and later completed his habilitation in Gießen in the subject of infectious diseases and animal hygiene. Before moving to the RKI, Wieler was director of the Institute for Microbiology and Animal Diseases at the Free University (FU) Berlin.
His future focus will be on “digital engineering”
The scientific focus of Wieler’s new employer, the HPI, is on “digital engineering”, i.e. the use of digital technologies in business and society. For example, the institute designed and developed a cloud platform for schools over several years, which several federal states adopt.
And last year, the scientist Ralf Herbrich, who worked for companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Zalando for many years, took over a chair in artificial intelligence and sustainability. The HPI has had a “Digital Health Center” since 2017 to bring together scientists from the fields of medicine and technology.
The pandemic has highlighted the need for digital solutions in healthcare, so the institute apparently wants to expand the area. The HPI, which is formally a faculty of the University of Potsdam, is largely financed by the foundation of SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner.
More: The Corona explainer leaves – RKI boss Lothar Wieler resigns