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Published: 08 Oct, 2021

Alumna on TIME's top 100 most influential people

NEWS Adi Utarini, an alumna from the Department of Epidemiology and Global Health at Umeå University, has been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world 2021 by Time magazine. Utarini is recognized for her work in fighting dengue fever.

Text: Jessica Bergström Grahn

Utarini, began her master's studies at Umeå University in 1997 and earned her doctorate in 2002 with a dissertation on a malaria control program in central Java, "Evaluation of the User-provider Interface in Malaria Control Program". Utarini is currently working as a professor of Public Health Science at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, which for more than 25 years has collaborated with the Department of Epidemiology and Global Health in Umeå.

Fights dengue fever

TIME has chosen Utarini due to her work in combating dengue fever. The climate-sensitive mosquito-borne disease affects almost 400 million people annually and has been described by the WHO as one of the 10 greatest threats to the world’s health. Utarini is part of an international team of researchers from the World Mosquito Program who are studying how to reduce the spread of mug-borne diseases.

The strategy used involves using mosquitoes prepared with Wolbachia, a bacteria that is harmless to humans but prevents mosquitoes from transmitting viruses to humans. Utarini was the first to prove in a groundbreaking study that it successfully contributed to reducing disease rates in community settings. The researchers believe that the strategy may also be effective in preventing other mosquito-borne viral diseases, including Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever.

An important work for many

Maria Nilsson, professor in Public Health at Umeå University, has closely followed Utarini's work over the past ten years as the universities have collaborated on climate change and health.

- In addition to being a strong researcher, Adi's ability to build trust in the project in the local community has been a prerequisite for the results achieved, says Maria Nilsson.

Indonesia is a country where the disease is raging and Utarini herself has survived it twice. It is a disease that can be fatal, where effective vaccine and curative drugs are lacking, only symptomatic treatment can be given. There have been outbreaks in southern Europe, but the conditions are not yet such that the disease could be established here, says Maria Nilsson. However, with climate change, it’s expected to happen within 50 years in southern Europe, with possible outbreaks in the north, something that is expected to happen during our, our children and grandchildren's lives.

- So even for us in our part of the world, successful work against dengue is very important and we really congratulate Adi on her great success, says Maria Nilsson.

Read the article about Adi Utarini in TIME