Published: 16-03-2017 08:44 | Updated: 21-03-2017 13:03

A memorial in honour of Hans Rosling

There were both tears and laughter when Hans Rosling’s family, colleagues from around the world and many others who wanted to pay their respects gathered for a memorial at Karolinska Institutet on 14 March. Close friend Hans Wigzell led the ceremony in Aula Medica that turned into a spectrum of professor Rosling’s contributions to global health.

Since Hans Rosling’s death on 7 February, a whole world has expressed its sorrow and shared its appreciation of Hans Rosling, professor of international health at Karolinska Institutet. During the course of Tuesday’s memorial,, guests from around the world and, via large-screen TV, also Bill and Melinda Gates, sent greetings to honour their friend.

Hans Wigzell, professor and former Vice-Chancellor of Karolinska Institutet, explained before the ceremony how he wished to honour Hans Rosling:

“I want the memorial to give an understanding of how Hans Rosling became the man he was. How his father worked as a coffee roaster in Uppsala and told Hans about poor coffee growers and exotic countries. And his mother who contracted tuberculosis and had to hand over caring for Hans to her parents. It was cured with the help of new medications and she returned to Hans a few years later,” Hans Wigzell said.

Doctoral students and family among the speakers

Some of Hans Rosling’s former doctoral students attended the memorial, along with colleagues, friends and family members. Speakers included the co-founders of Gapminder, Hans Rosling’s son Ola Rosling and daughter-in law Anna Rosling Rönnlund, associate professor of international health Johan von Schreeb, professor of parasitology Hannah Akuffo, director of the National Nutrition Programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo Jean Pierre Banea Mayambu and assistant professor of global health Helena Nordenstedt.

As a representative of his own country and countries in eastern and central Africa, Jean Pierre Banea Mayambu thanked Hans Rosling for discovering the paralytic disease konzo and its connection to high consumption of cassava root.

“We will always remember Hans Rosling in our hearts,” said Jean Pierre Banea Mayambu.

Johan von Schreeb, associate professor at Karolinska Institutet and who heads the Centre for Research on Health Care in Disasters, observed that Hans Rosling’s life was six months shorter than today’s global life expectancy of 69 years. He went on to speak about Hans Rosling’s view of development – like a shift where people bury their elders instead of being forced to bury their children.

“It’s part of life to need to bury one’s parents, but it can never be normal to have to bury one’s children. Poverty is the opposite of development, it locks people in misery. Hans Rosling fought against poverty his entire life,” said Johan von Schreeb.

Put everything aside when necessary

Abela Agnarson, PhD in international health, is director of public health outcomes at pharmaceutical manufacturer and medical engineering company Johnson & Johnson. At the memorial she said that Hans Rosling was her mentor for ten years. With great sadness and loss in her voice she spoke about what Hans Rosling had meant to her and many other people. Not least when he managed to persuade Tanzania’s president to rescind an order to deport a group of inhabitants who did not have valid passports or visas – which, among others, would have hit Abela Agnarson’s relatives in Tanzania.

“When you needed Hans he was the angel we were all hoping for. When I knocked on his door and told him about the order, he let everything he was doing at the time go. He contacted churches, every government he could find a way in to, CNN, the BBC and the United Nations. The next afternoon Tanzania’s president rescinded the order with immediate effect. From that day on we have five cows in my village in Tanzania that bear Hans Rosling’s name. Hans, you will always be in my compass in life,” Abela Agnarson said.

Around the turn of the century the seed was planted for what was to be the Gapminder organisation. It was here that Hans Rosling’s eldest son Ola Rosling and his wife Anna Rosling Rönnlund helped Hans Rosling devise the bubble graph that was to become the Trendalyzer software, which makes large amounts of data intelligible. Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund spoke about how thy are continuing the mission of combating ignorance by spreading a fact-based picture of the world that everyone can understand. They urged doctors, schools, researchers and the rest of the world to study their tools on Gapminder’s website and continue to spread knowledge in the spirit of Hans Rosling.

Created the chimpanzee test

“Let the revolution continue through Gapminder,” urged financier and philanthropist Sven Hagströmer, who spoke about what a great impression Hans Rosling had made on him when he first heard him on the Sommar radio programme on P1.

“All my family listened with great fascination to what this man had to say, both once and twice,” Sven Hagströmer continued.

Naturally, everyone at the memorial had to take the test that Hans Rosling often used to test his audience’s knowledge – the chimpanzee test.

A chimpanzee manages to answer correctly with a33 per cent chance, which means that it is possible to measure if the audience will score better than chimpanzees would.

Judging from this audience, many have learned from Hans Rosling; the results were well above the chimpanzees’ level.

Text: Stina Moritz

How some of the speakers remember Hans Rosling:

Hans Wigzell“I will remember Hans Rosling as a remarkable person who tool personal responsibility for things that we might think lay far outside his responsibility, for example his personal consideration for relatives of Swedish soldiers killed in Afghanistan. He was a man of his word and no promise was sacred and lasting until it had been honoured, for example his promise to Frelimo’s leader Mondlane in Uppsala in 1967 that when he had qualified as a doctor he would come to Mozambique and work as a doctor in the countryside there. I will also remember him as an extremely serious teacher for the world but at the same time a person who was very fond of childishly dramatic jokes.” Hans Wigzell, professor at the Department of Microbiology, Tumour and Cell Biology, former Vice-Chancellor of Karolinska Institutet

Anna Rosling Rönnlund“What was so typical of Hans was that when push came to shove he dropped everything, did what was needed and put the important things first. When things were not so serious he was instead rather difficult to get hold of because he was doing his own thing and had a lot of stuff going on. Many people are loyal and diligent when it comes to the everyday and fail miserably when it really matters. But not Hans Rosling. He was not so loyal and diligent in everyday matters but he never failed when it really mattered. When our son became ill, Hans put aside almost everything else and devoted himself totally to our son. I will remember his enormous heart.”Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Hans Rosling’s daughter-in-law and co-founder of the Gapminder foundation.

Hannah Akuffo“I characterise our relationship as Hans accelerating through life in a gleaming Ferrari, while I move forward in a reliable Volkswagen. He made me go outside my comfort zone, fore example by questioning Bill Gates. I thank God that Hans was in my life as my colleague and my friend.” Hannah Akuffo, programme manager for research cooperation at Sida and professor of parasitology at Karolinska Institutet