Lives of the fellows

Sven Ragnar Norrby

b.29 March 1943 d.17 June 2014
MB Gothenburg(1964) PhD(1970) MD(1971) FRCP Edin(1997) FRCP(2005)

Ragnar Norrby was director general of the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control in Stockholm. He was born in Gothenburg, Sweden, the son of K Sven T Norrby, a surgeon, and Iva Norrby née Odin, a nurse. He received his medical degree at the University of Gothenburg, where he was also awarded a PhD in 1970 for a thesis on ‘Studies on the host cell penetration of Toxoplasma gondii’.

His first senior academic post was as professor and chairman of the department of infectious diseases at Umeå University; he was also medical director of Umeå University Hospital. After seven years in Umeå, he moved to a similar appointment at Lund University.

In 2001 he was appointed director general of the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control, a government organisation that monitors and promotes the control of infectious diseases in Sweden. He remained there until he retired in 2009. As director general he had to deal with many difficult political situations, related, for example, to childhood vaccination, HIV infection and epidemic influenza, often in the glare of media attention. His calm and sensible responses to these situations were impeccable; he always led from the front.

In addition to his university and clinical positions, he held important appointments in a number of institutions, including chairman or president of the Swedish Society of Medicine, the Swedish Society of Infectious Diseases and the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. He was also on the board of trustees of the International Vaccine Institute in Seoul, South Korea. The latter organisation is an initiative of the United Nations Development Programme, which conducts research in Africa, Asia and South America with a focus on novel vaccines against infectious diseases, especially diarrhoeal diseases and dengue fever, common causes of morbidity and mortality in children in developing countries.

Ragnar had many other research interests, ranging from Lyme disease in Sweden to clinical trials and pharmacokinetics of new antimicrobial agents. He was co-editor of several monographs and was an expert on clinical trial methodology.

He had two sabbaticals – the first in the United States in the antibiotic research division of the pharmaceutical company Merck, Sharp and Dohme, and the other at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Ragnar combined a warm and generous personality with a determination to seek for excellence in every organisation he was associated with – not always an easy task. Always dressed immaculately in a Savile Row suit and with impeccable English, Ragnar Norrby was frequently mistaken for an Englishman. He admired many United Kingdom institutions and was proud of his fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians.

He was survived by his wife, Ann-Sofie (née Bengtson), whom he married in 1966, and two daughters, one of whom (Anna) is professor and head of the center for infectious medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Alasdair Geddes

[The Lancet Infectious Diseases Vol 1 August 2001 60-2]

(Volume XII , page web)

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