Uppsala Health Summit

Meet Program Committee Chair Professor Marianne Elvander, DVM and former state epizootiologist at Sweden’s National Veterinary Institute.

2017-03-17

Uppsala Health Summit’s programme committee chair is one of Europe’s most experienced policy advisors when it comes to prevention and detection of zoonotic infections. 

Professor Elvander left her position as state epizootiologist this summer after eleven years at the National Veterinary Institute, a position that involved intense dialogues and efforts to bridge the animal health and the human health communities, as well as connecting research with policymaking.

In this interview, Professor Elvander shares her thoughts on the urgency to implement a One Health perspective to tackle the threats from infectious diseases.

- Professor Elvander, for many years, you have met researchers and policy makers and talked about the importance of understanding and acting on risks for infections from a One Health perspective. Has this perspective penetrated the global health community by now?

- In some areas yes; when it concerns certain zoonotic diseases like BSE, the influenza complex, and food borne diseases like salmonella and campylobacter. And of course antimicrobial resistance which is at last on the global agenda.

But there has been no overall strategy for how to join forces and use competences, nor a hands on strategy dealing with zoonotic diseases in general.

The veterinary legislation within the EU is very strict when it comes to serious infectious diseases in animals and encompasses a detailed plan including diagnostics, eradcation, movements of animals and goods, trade and communication. It has been very efficient in combatting animal disease outbreaks in the last decades. But to handle zoonotic disease outbreaks in the best possible way on the international arena is much more complex, involving not only the global organisations, political and economic considerations, the expertise in medical and veterinary professions, but also social scientists, and not to forget local organisations and stakeholders. A common understanding of what is needed in an acute situation, and involving the right experts at an early stage would be a much-needed step forward.

- Which areas do we need to focus on?

- I think a good surveillance system is the basis for a rapid response and to minimise spread of emerging and re-emerging infectious disease worldwide. Since we do not have the insight in when or where a new threat will emerge, we at least need to have a robust plan how to deal with any type of contagious disease.

- Can you share some insights in the program committee work?

- It is a wonderful opportunity to widen my insight of the work of scientists and professionals among Uppsala Health Summit’s partners and to discover how different disciplines deal with similar topics, but from different angles. It strengthens my hopes for a better collaboration in the future and for a positive outcome of the Summit.   

- You were just about to enjoy retirement when you were contacted by the National Veterinary Institute, one of Uppsala Health Summit’s partner, asking you to chair the programme committee 2017. What made you accept this position?

Transboundary diseases, i.e. diseases that respect no borders, have been my main interest for many years. Since the majority of them are zoonotic or vector borne, a One Health perspective is of fundamental importance. This means collaboration between all experts and stakeholders. So, it was an offer I could not refuse so I just put some other planned projects on hold.

- Which are your main expectations for the upcoming Summit in October?

- I would love to see a common understanding how different disciplines could join forces and have a common basic agenda for how to deal with contagious diseases worldwide. A kind of tool box giving priorities to what needs to be done first for a successful outcome. To not only do the right things, but also to do them in the right order.

We must build robust systems that can support sound decision-making based on science, and avoid being side-tracked by rumours and unscientific agenda-setting.