Barbara Wieland is a veterinarian with 20 years’ experience in research, development cooperation and veterinary epidemiology. She has vast experience in combatting epizootic disease and zoonoses, as well as in-depth knowledge of One Health approaches.After completing her PhD in Veterinary Medicine at the University of Bern, Barbara joined the Royal Veterinary College and Pirbright Institute in London, where she worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the field of Molecular Epidemiology. Following this, Barbara lectured in Veterinary Epidemiology at the Royal Veterinary College for several years where, amongst other things, she was course director for the College’s Masters programme in Control of Infectious Diseases in Animals, while also taking part in several international research projects. From 2015, she led the herd health team at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Ethiopia, from where she co-ordinated projects in East Africa, West Africa and Asia. Prior to this, Barbara spent three years in Mongolia, where she worked as project manager for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
You have a wealth of experience in Epidemiology and most recently led a herd health management team for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Ethiopia. What made you take the reins at the IVI?
There are lots of reasons, although chief among them is my interest in combatting highly contagious animal diseases and zoonoses at local, national and international level. It’s always extremely interesting to get to understand the systems that lead to the development of chains of transmission in contagious diseases and to use that understanding to develop effective approaches to dealing with them, in which virology and immunology obviously play an essential role. Over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to work on the monitoring and control of epizootic diseases in a number of countries in Europe, Asia and Africa, all of which have vastly divergent livestock production systems. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen the extent of the damage that these diseases can wreak time and time again.
The African swine fever virus, foot-and-mouth disease and the worldwide programme to eradicate ovine rinderpest, among others, became particularly prominent themes in my work over recent years, and I hope that the international network that I’ve been able to develop will also be useful to the IVI.
The IVI doesn’t only work on conventional, highly contagious diseases and zoonoses, such as rabies, but will certainly also have a much greater involvement in combatting newly identified zoonoses in the future. The relationship between people, animals and the environmental health is fascinating, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of leading the IVI in the One Health approach going forward.
Of course, I also have personal reasons for accepting. After spending more than 15 years abroad, this position offers a wonderful opportunity to return to Switzerland, to come home, and I’m delighted to have the chance to take the experiences that I’ve gained in recent years and apply it here.
What are the main challenges facing the IVI?
When you look at the IVI’s mandate, control of epizootic diseases clearly takes centre stage. There are surely still known and new, as-yet unidentified risks to Switzerland, to which the IVI will have to make an important contribution, either in terms of diagnosis or research, in order to keep up to date and in so doing, protect Switzerland’s animal and human populations against infectious diseases. Outbreaks of viral diseases in Switzerland and in neighbouring countries, such as the cases of African swine fever that have been identified in wild boar in several EU member states, demonstrate the importance of always being prepared. Nevertheless, experience gained in recent years also shows that interdisciplinary work is essential to implementing the right solutions. This is particularly true when dealing with zoonoses. Much has been learned in this regard during the Covid-19 pandemic. The IVI must therefore continue to adapt to new situations and shift focus, as it has over the course of the last few years. I don’t think that the IVI will ever be an institute for which it will simply be “business as usual”. You have to be able to look ahead and understand and analyse new risks. Basic research plays an essential role in this. In Mittelhäusern and the laboratory at the Vetsuisse faculty in Bern, the IVI has two facilities that enable it to promote research into and implementation of measures for the benefit of public and animal health. Increasing the use of One Health approaches to deal with issues, that is to say working in an interdisciplinary way and making use of systems research at the point where people, animals and the environment intersect, to create added value will allow the IVI to overcome the challenges that the future brings, thanks in no small part to IVI’s experienced employees and its cooperation with other institutions. Of this I am very confident.
Do you already have an idea of what you’d like to get to grips with during your first few weeks in office?
In the last few weeks, I’ve had the great pleasure of being able to chat with my predecessor, Christian Griot, several times and benefit from his experience. This helped me immensely in my preparation and I’m deeply grateful to him for his time. That being said, there will still be many new aspects for me to get to grips with during my first few weeks, and I’ll definitely take enough time to get to know the staff and working processes at the IVI properly. I’ll also be meeting with representatives from other institutes and interest groups to discuss the ways in which we can meaningfully co-operate to tackle impending challenges.