Citation: The Specialist Profile Series. Blystad H. EpiNorth. 2008 Vol 9 Nr 3. p. 97-99
Name: Hans Blystad
Background: Medical doctor
Title: Deputy State Epidemiologist of Norway
Place of work: Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), which is the governmental organization responsible for surveillance, advice and research in infectious diseases
Specialty: HIV/AIDS,hepatitis, infections among drug users, sexually transmitted diseases
Hobbies: History, especially war history. Collecting, at the moment model cars
What are your main responsibilities at the NIPH?
In addition to being deputy head of department under Preben Aavitsland, I administer the Norwegian Surveillance System for Communicable Diseases (Meldesystemet for Infeksjonssystemer, MSIS). This involves advising local health authorities on infectious disease epidemiology, developing guidelines and manuals, and editing the Institute`s newsletter, MSIS-rapport. I also participate in international expert groups and networks in the fields of HIV/AIDS, drug abuse and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
What motivated you to specialize in infectious disease epidemiology?
The HIV/AIDS epidemic. I was a general practitioner in Trondheim back in the early 1980s when the AIDS epidemic reached Norway, and I set up my own private counselling and testing service for risk groups. After some time I was engaged by the local health authorities to head an AIDS centre in Trondheim, and since 1987 I’ve been employed full time in infectious disease epidemiology work. In 1995 I moved to Oslo to work at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
Which of your professional achievements has given you most satisfaction?
Developing prevention strategies, because I believe that prevention actually works and that it saves lives and prevents suffering for many people. Being able to advise and support colleagues with less experience in infectious disease epidemiology.
What do you think was your most difficult professional moment?
The start of the AIDS epidemic back in the 1980s. It was distressing to see the despair of the first patients I diagnosed with HIV, and seeing so many of them die. I lost several close friends to AIDS. Fortunately, all this changed when effective treatment was introduced in the middle of the1990s.
What do you think has been the most important achievement in infectious disease epidemiology so far?
The success and public acceptance of children’s vaccination programmes. One tends to forget how much suffering vaccine-preventable diseases caused in the pre-vaccine era.
What made you join the EpiNorth project? What do you think of the project?
I’ve been part of the EpiNorth project right from the start, in the late 1990s. At first I mostly participated in seminars and meetings with Russian and Baltic colleagues to exchange views and experiences. In the last few years I’ve been taking part in cross-border expert groups and bilateral projects.
What do you find most inspiring about the EpiNorth project?
Having so many opportunities to meet enthusiastic professional colleagues who do so much excellent work in the field of prevention.
What do you think is the most important advance made by the EpiNorth project?
That even though our experience and traditions are different, we share the same enthusiasm and are open to new ideas and approaches, especially in dealing with risk groups for infectious diseases, like drug users.
What is your favourite book?
I spend nearly two hours on the bus every day going to and from work. I always read a book on these bus trips, never official documents. I usually read non-fiction, especially books on World War II.
Aside from your professional career, what is your greatest ambition in life?
I guess I’m getting so old now that most of my ambitions are behind me. I would say my greatest ambition now is to continue to have a harmonious and peaceful life with my partner of nearly thirty years.
What would be your message to your younger colleagues in the field of epidemiology?
Never forget that behind all the surveillance, prevention and measures in infectious disease epidemiology there are people like you and me, and our task is to improve their quality of life through our efforts and dedication.