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Published: 23 Mar, 2020

Umeå professor part of prestigious commission on Arctic Health

PROFILE At the end of February UArctic reported that the journal The Lancet is starting a new project: The Lancet Commission on Arctic Health. Umeå University's Birgitta Evengård is one of a select few to be chosen for a seat in the commission, and we at Arcum took the opportunity to interview her.

Text: Oscar Sedholm

Birgitta Evengård is since 2007 professor at Umeå University, the Department of Clinical Microbiology. She has been the chair of Arcum’s board and was one of the founding members of CLINF Nordic Centre of Excellence NcoE. Now she has been selected to be part of the new the Lancet Commission of Arctic Health.

What can you tell us about the Lancet Journal Commission on Arctic Health?

The Lancet is a very famous high-profile journal. They have since a few years back been producing reports within several areas. To do this they have gathered expertise, scientists who get two years to immerse themselves within a question, refer to scientific results and together discuss facts and experiences within the field, with the goal of helping governmental departments and stakeholders. For decision-makers this can be a comparably cheap way of gaining access to good facts. The Lancet has taken notice of this and is therefore now publishing these reports which focus on certain relevant areas within health. That they now have decided to look at health in the Arctic is a very strong asset for us!

Health in the Arctic is still a relatively undervalued question and we hope that this report will help with highlighting them.

Health in the Arctic is still a relatively undervalued question and we hope that this report will help with highlighting them. We need to spread awareness in both medical and social scientific Arctic topics, which usually are overshadowed by natural scientific questions in general. That this happens through the Lancet is immediately a seal of quality, and we will through this have access to their communication infrastructure which is an incredibly strong asset.

How did you become part of this work? How does it feel?

I was nominated to hold a seat in this. I believe they have a working group which finds candidates, and then nominate a select few. We have now had our first meeting at Darthmouth College, and I found that it is a very competent group with vast expertise from different areas. It felt adequate – I think that I have worked for a long time and now it pays off. I am also happy for Umeå University and Sweden! This reminds me that what Umeå is doing with the Arctic scientific topic is unique, even though it has yet to be understood and appreciated by decision-makers and governmental institutions in Stockholm.

... what Umeå is doing with the Arctic scientific topic is unique, even though it has yet to be understood and appreciated by decision-makers and governmental institutions in Stockholm.

What do you think that this can do for Arctic health questions in general?

The goal is for this to matter for decision-makers when it comes to different strategies in the Arctic, and research funds for studies, for scientific endeavors, but also in influencing departmental decisions. It’s not like we’re doing this only to gain access to more funds – instead we want our work to help societies. For instance, we now see that the tundra is melting in Alaska and previously frozen cemeteries have started to expose human remains. How do we handle this? What guidelines, both ethical and medical, can we suggest? And questions of water security, when the tundra is melting in the Arctic, are also highly relevant. We hope that this commission can help make these questions more accessible to the general public. I also hope that this will be helpful the EU and NIH are drafting new directives for scientific funds.

 

Interview by Oscar Sedholm, pictures by Mattias Pettersson.