With Hans Rosling’s death, INDEPTH has lost a close friend

10 Feb 2017

Hans believed that with the right facts, people would make the right decisions. An article in December 2016 issue of the international weekly journal of science, Nature, "Three minutes with Hans Rosling will change your mind" starts like this: Hans Rosling knew never to flee from men wielding machetes. “The risk is higher if you run than if you face them,” he says. So, in 1989, when an angry mob confronted him at the field laboratory he had set up in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rosling tried to appear calm. “I thought, ‘I need to use the resources I have, and I am good at talking’.”.

Rosling, a physician and epidemiologist, pulled from his knapsack a handful of photographs of people from different parts of Africa who had been crippled by konzo, an incurable disease that was affecting many in this community, too. Through an interpreter, he explained that he believed he knew the cause, and he wanted to test local people’s blood to be sure. A few minutes into his demonstration, an old woman stepped forward and addressed the crowd in support of the research. After the more aggressive members of the mob stopped waving their machetes, she rolled up her sleeve. Most followed her lead. “You can do anything as long as you talk with people and listen to people and talk with the intelligentsia of the community,” says Rosling.  And that is what Hans did best: trying to arm influential people with facts.

Prof. Hans Rosling (seated - second right) in a group photograph with INDEPTH Resource and Training Centre
and INDEPTH projects staff during his visit in December 2015.

Hans became well known for his presentations of data, illustrated by the visualisation software he developed. The animations transform development statistics into moving bubbles and flowing curves that make global trends very simple and clear for an average person to understand.
 
He had a very close relationship with Bill Gates and appeared several times campaigning with Bill Gates on global issues. Gates even cited a Rosling presentation about the effectiveness of healthcare projects in the developing world as one of the main reasons behind his decision to donate billions of dollars to the issue.

INDEPTH at an event held at the Karolinska Institutet’s Aula Medica in 2014 that was moderated by Prof. Hans Rosling (right).
Others are from left
Prof Osman Sankoh (INDEPTH), Dr. Julia Schalk (RFSU), Prof. Hannah Akuffo (Sida) and Bill Gates.

To us at INDEPTH, Hans was more than a statistics guru, medical doctor, academic, and former professor at Stockholm's Karolinska Institute. To us he was a true friend. He attended the first INDEPTH mortality data analysis in July 2000 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where he first presented his concept on representing population data using bobbles. This was well before he moved to Google.org.
 
He followed INDEPTH's development over the years. He twitted on our data repository when it was launched in 2013 and in 2014 invited INDEPTH to Uppsala University where our Executive Director, Prof. Osman Sankoh and colleagues made a presentation on INDEPTH to a group of Uppsala University faculty Hans had invited to the meeting.
 
In October 2015 Hans made it possible for Osman to participate on stage at a symposium with Bill Gates in Stockholm, Sweden, thereby giving exceptional visibility to the Network. At the INDEPTH Scientific Conference in Maputo, Mozambique in October 2011, Hans gave the keynote address in the presence of the President of Mozambique Armando Guebuza and many dignitaries. 
 
And to crown it all, Hans visited INDEPTH in Accra, Ghana in December 2015 and made a presentation, in INDEPTH shirt, to the Network.  During the presentation, he said that data which was needed in the health sector, was also important for investment. But he cautioned: “Do not simply display data—present the data so that its story is revealed to all.” He said policymakers, politicians and businesspeople were interested in data at a very aggregated level. "It is not the numbers that excite them but the story behind the numbers."

 Hans commended INDEPTH for its work saying "you are doing a good job" and "INDEPTH is bigger than you think".  He said, "INDEPTH is the start of civil registration in Africa" adding that one cannot understand the lives of people if they do not count them. These encouraging words are like he had come to say goodbye to us.
 
“It is difficult to believe that Hans is gone forever,” said Osman. “We will miss him and he will be missed by many. May his Soul Rest in Peace.”

 

Hans Rosling at INDEPTH Scientific Conference in Maputo October 2011.