Published: 2021-10-11 11:24 | Updated: 2021-10-11 11:28

Seminar in the spirit of Hans Rosling with a focus on sustainable health

The first Rosling seminar arranged by KI and WHO was moderated by Stefan Swartling Peterson, Professor of Global Transformation for Health at KI. Photo: Stefan Zimmerman

In October, WHO and Karolinska Institutet arranged the first Rosling seminar on the theme "Health Equity and Pandemics – a Moonshot for Sustainable Health". It stressed that the path to sustainable health is through global cooperation and an international perspective where the focus is on the world's most vulnerable.

President Ole Petter Ottersen during the conference. Photo: Stefan Zimmerman

The Rosling seminar is part of recently enhanced cooperation between WHO and KI with the aim of contributing to the UN's global goals. It also includes four cooperation centres for research in health and disaster medicine, reproduction, TBC and social medicine, and suicide prevention. 

"We hope that the Rosling Seminar will be an annual event where today's question is how to build a better and fairer and more sustainable society after the pandemic. The ambition is to be inspired by Hans Rosling as we chart a way forward to tackle this and future pandemics on the road to a sustainable society," says Ole Petter Ottersen, Vice-Chancellor at KI. 

A far-sighted health approach

During the seminar, the attention of the participants was caught by a thirty-year-old overhead image. Ola Rosling had found the image among his father's old presentation materials and said it was indicative of Hans Rosling's foresight. 

The image "Health Grip" shows an open hand with text on each of the five fingers. The text describes the basic conditions for health: food, water, social welfare, material welfare, and health care. Ola Rosling has translated the concepts into English: food, water, social protection, infrastructure, and health care.

"You can't save lives just with the message found on the little finger: health care. You need all five fingers to succeed," says Ola Rosling, Gapminder Foundation. 

Ola Rosling, Gapminder Foundation.  Photo: Stefan Zimmerman

Rosling stressed that we must reach the most vulnerable people, both in rural areas and in cities, in order to reduce extreme poverty in the world. He said that we need to distinguish between the economic growth needed to take these people out of poverty and the growth that discourages sustainable development. As a yardstick in this work, he highlighted the Sustainable Development Index.

Focus on the women of the world

Melinda French Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation attended the seminar with a pre-recorded speech in which she began by sharing her memories of Hans Rosling. In particular, she stressed how we need to use information and data to find a way to a sustainable society. She pointed out how more and better efforts to make it easier for the world's women will have a positive impact on the entire global economy. 

Melinda French Gates, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Photo: Stefan Zimmerman

"Covid-19 has exposed the inequalities that have existed for so long in our societies. We need to focus on women, give them the opportunity to grow and develop. In this way, we lay the foundations for a sustainable, prosperous society," says Melinda French Gates.  

"We can ask ourselves what Hans would have done after the pandemic? He would not have lost hope but he would have looked at the data that indicates that we need to focus on the most vulnerable and help them get back on their feet. That is also our task today.

Goal-based transformation

Mariana Mazzucato, University College London, also participated in the seminar whose contribution stressed the need to focus on goal-based development work. Her book "Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism" provided the subtitle to this year's Rosling seminar. 

"If we see social sectors as separated silos, it will be impossible to transform society in the direction we want in order to achieve the UN's global sustainability goals," says Mariana Mazzucato.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO. Photo: Stefan Zimmerman

The seminar was moderated by Stefan Swartling Peterson, Professor of Global Transformation for Health at KI. Among other things, he led a discussion between Ole Petter Ottersen and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO. The discussion highlighted, among other things, the need for stronger collaboration and the role that the WHO's newly established Science Council can play. 

"The same unsustainable selection that is killing our planet is also killing people. We need to live within the limits the planet can withstand, and we need to work to ensure the health of people, animals, and our planet – at the same time," says Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO.

This year's seminar ended with a panel discussion that also included Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist WHO, Rhoda Wanyenze, Professor and Rector of Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH), and Cesar Victora, professor emeritus of epidemiology at the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil.