UW News

October 10, 2019

UW names population health building after Swedish physician and ‘very serious possibilist’ Hans Rosling

Hans Rosling with bubble chart projection

Hans Rosling is pictured with one of his iconic “animated bubble chart” projections. The University of Washington has named a new building on its Seattle campus the Hans Rosling Center for Population Health.Stefan Nilsson/Gapminder

Hans Rosling is known internationally for his captivating analysis of global health data, for discovering a paralyzing disease in Africa and explaining its socio-economic causes, and for his intense curiosity and life-long passion for educating students, world leaders and the public.

Now, Hans Rosling — a Swedish doctor, statistician, author and professor — will be a name associated with the University of Washington’s transformative work in population health. Today, the UW Board of Regents approved naming the $230 million building under construction on UW’s Seattle campus the Hans Rosling Center for Population Health.

Hans RoslingJörgen Hildebrandt/Gapminder

“Hans Rosling was a visionary scholar who challenged the world to truly understand the health challenges we face, as well as the potential we have to overcome them. It was this unique combination of practicality and optimism that drove his work, and inspired so many to action,” said UW President Ana Mari Cauce. “I hope the faculty, students, staff and partners who come together in the building are equally inspired by Dr. Rosling’s legacy as they work to improve the well-being of people in Washington and around the world.”

In 2016, the UW launched its Population Health Initiative, an interdisciplinary effort across the university to bring understanding and solutions to the biggest health challenges facing communities here in the Pacific Northwest, the U.S. and around the world.

The Hans Rosling Center for Population Health was made possible by a $210 million gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in October 2016 and $15 million in earmarked funding from the Washington Legislature, as well as funding from the university. The Gates family proposed naming the building after Rosling in honor of his rigorous analysis of the true state of the world and passion for improving heath, which spurred a decades-long friendship with the physician and his family.

“Where others saw statistics, Hans saw the chance to tell an incredible human story about our progress against poverty and disease. A data geek through and through, he used numbers to educate, to entertain and to share his special brand of big-hearted, evidence-based optimism,” said Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation. “This is a fitting tribute to an extraordinary man.”

After earning his medical degree from Uppsala University in Sweden in 1974, Rosling traveled to northern Mozambique where he was in charge of health services for more than 300,000 people, at one time becoming the region’s only doctor. During his time in Mozambique, he discovered a previously unrecognized paralytic disease that his research team named “konzo.” Rosling’s team traced the outbreak of the disease to cyanide poisoning of the people who were eating improperly prepared cassava roots during food crisis years.

After returning to Sweden, Rosling taught courses on health systems in resource poor settings and international health at Uppsala University and the medical university Karolinska Institutet until his death in 2017. He was a member of the Swedish Academy of Science, the Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and the Global Agenda Network of the World Economic Forum. Among his many honors was the Illis Quorum Meruere Labores (“For Those Whose Labors Have Deserved It”), the highest award conferred by the Swedish government.

In 2006, Rosling burst onto the international stage with a widely acclaimed TED Talk titled “The best statistics you’ve never seen” that has been viewed more than 14 million times, showing innovative animated data visualizations developed by his son Ola Rosling, and daughter-in-law, Anna Rosling Rönnlund. Hans Rosling followed that success with nine more TED Talks, speaking engagements around the world and the best-selling book “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.” Published posthumously, “Factfulness” was co-authored with Ola and Anna.

“With powerful data and beautiful charts, Hans taught the world that humanity was getting better,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation. “He shone a spotlight on how far the world had come in taking care of its poorest. Hans is among the greatest influences in how I think — and talk — about our foundation’s work today.”

As his fame and reach grew among the public, and international leaders in business and health, Rosling characteristically self-deprecated that he was an “edutainer” and countered negative suggestions that he was just an “optimist” by declaring instead that he was “a very serious possibilist.”

Rosling, together with his son and daughter-in-law, also created the Swedish foundation and website Gapminder, which, as the site states, continues his life’s mission “to fight devastating ignorance about the world with a fact-based worldview that everyone can understand.”

“A large dedicated building inspires people to collaborate towards a higher goal. Hans would have been proud to see his name on this new center dedicated to precisely the kind of health research that he was convinced has the highest potential to improve health worldwide,” said Rosling’s family — Agneta Rosling (wife), Anna Rosling Larsson (daughter), Magnus Rosling (son), Ola Rosling (son), Anna Rosling Rönnlund (daughter in law, married to Ola), Mats Rosling (Hans’ brother) — in a statement.

“Hans would probably have taken the opportunity to paraphrase his grandmother: The reason you’re building this large beautiful house must be because you actually believe there’s something valuable in all people. You believe that all people everywhere deserve to get the best possible health care,” the family added. “That’s exactly what Hans thought! That we must first make sure all people have access to existing solutions before further improving the health care of the healthiest. We’re thankful that you are honoring his name in this wonderful way!”

Artist rendering of building

An artist rendering of the new Hans Rosling Center for Population Health.The Miller Hull Partnership

The new Hans Rosling Center for Population Health will become home to the Department of Global Health, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, portions of the School of Public Health, and the UW’s Population Health Initiative. The building is also designed to be a central hub for colleges, departments, centers, researchers and students from across the university, as well as external partners, to identify and work together on projects related to population health.

“Dr. Rosling had a unique ability to focus us in on the big picture, shift narratives and inspire people to action through his transformational use of data visualizations,” said Ali H. Mokdad, the UW’s chief strategy officer for population health and professor of Health Metrics Sciences. “His seminal efforts are foundational to the work of the Population Health Initiative and the University of Washington’s vision for harnessing innovative approaches to improve population health, and we are deeply honored that we will now forever be associated with his name.”

At approximately 300,000 square feet, the Rosling Center for Population Health will support spaces for collaborative group work, active learning, offices and training for global partners and multi-disciplinary work in population health campus wide. Honorary naming of various spaces within the building will take place over the course of its construction and following its opening. Generous natural light and common amenities will include kitchens, eating areas, wellness rooms and gender-neutral bathrooms on all floors.

Construction is expected to be completed by fall 2020.

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