“It’s good to get more attention to how global health and One health are interconnected”
Johanna Lindahl, an associate professor and active at the International Livestock Research Institute, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Uppsala university is awarded the SIGHT Award 2018 and SEK 100 000. The prize is awarded for excellent scientific contribution to global health.
By Ulrica Segersten
Congratulations on the SIGHT Award 2018! As a veterinarian and researcher in medical biochemistry and microbiology, do you consider yourself a researcher in global health?
“It is not obvious, but I am all the happier that there is an understanding of the interaction between animals, human beings and the environment, and that more knowledge about this interaction is crucial to strengthen global health,” replies Johanna Lindahl on Skype from the other side of the Atlantic.
It is not easy to keep track of Johanna Lindahl’s research and workdays. When we were to book an interview via Skype, she was 6 hours after Swedish time – and the following week 6 hours ahead. However, this is probably only to be expected from a recipient of a prize for research in global health.
What do you usually say to the person seated next to you at dinner who asks what you are doing?
“I usually describe what I do as dealing with infectious diseases and food safety, simply put how to avoid food and animals making people sick. On a practical level, my work and research are a lot about capacity building and disease prevention connected to food and agricgultue, to improve human health and ensure that infections are not spread through foodstuffs, especially in tropical countries.”
Although treatment of food-borne diseases is not Johanna Lindahl’s field, her work is a prerequisite for effective diagnosis and for spreading knowledge about food-borne and zoonotic disease among healthcare professionals.
Johanna Lindahl is often surprised that international conferences about challenges for urban populations and outbreaks of diseases rarely, if ever, discuss the fact that these populations actually have to be fed and the risks associated with food production.
“To me it’s almost shocking that nobody talks about food. It is clear that a wide range of scientific disciplines need to be involved and collaborate when we talk about disease outbreaks and the interactions between humans, animals and the environment. There is a tendency to neglect the issue, perhaps because for fear that the questions raised simply are too big.”
“It also applies to the need for being humble to the challenges facing many tropical or poor countries”, says Johanna. Many countries and decision-makers have tough priorities. I admit that you can get exhausted by all the misery you meet.”
“I can tell governments about the causes of a certain disease burden in the country and also what needs to be done, still knowing that at the same time they have many other diseases that need to be addressed urgently. And although I inform them that toxins in their food cause damage, I know they may not really have any choice; it’s poisonous food or no food at all.”
Part of Johanna Lindahl’s research is about antibiotic resistance. This field requires knowledge of how antibiotics are used in livestock rearing and how it is interacting with human medicine and ecosystems. There is no other way to address antibiotic resistance than to look at all the parts that affect the risk of creating resistance as a whole.
“We still have countries where there is no control over antibiotic use, where the understanding of the difference between other drugs and antibiotics is very low.”
The interaction between agriculture, food, health and antibiotic resistance raises complex issues regarding accountability. “And strong feelings”, says Johanna Lindahl. “A farmer, of course, wants to have healthy animals and gives them antibiotics if needed. But can the individual farmer or, for example, the Ministry of Agriculture in a poor country be held responsible for adding to the threats of global antibiotic resistance? Hardly. That is why more people have to work with what we call One health”.
What does it mean to you and your field of research to be rewarded with the SIGHT Award 2018?
“First of all, I think it’s good to get more attention to how global health and One health are interconnected. If something is blindingly obvious it is that several disciplines and actors need to work together to tackle the issue of antibiotic resistance.”
“And for me personally, it is, of course, both honorable and encouraging given the fact that the work needed to be done is so vast. Sometimes it’s frustrating and emotionally exhaustive given that so much has to be done with so few resources and people involved in the matter. Hopefully, this SIGHT award will help raise the issue in a new way”, Johanna Lindahl hopes.
Citation for her award:
”Johanna Lindahl has from a holistic perspective and in cooperation with researchers from low and middle-income countries developed our knowledge within areas of crucial relevance for the well-being and survival of mankind globally, namely human and animal interaction (”One Health”) as well as antibiotic resistance.”
THE SIGHT Award 2018
The Prize was instituted with the support from the Einhorn family foundation and was awarded during the Voices 4 Health concert, with first performances at the Eric Ericson Hall in Stockholm, on the 25th November. A scientific review committee made a suggestion of the SIGHT awardee 2018, and the decision was then made by the Academy Board.