Officer of the Cross of Recognition Ģirts Briģis: By Respecting Public Interests, You Promote Individuals’ Interests
On 30 October 2020, the Chapter of Orders awarded Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) Professor Ģirts Briģis, Head of the Department of Public Health and Epidemiology of the Faculty of Public Health and Social Welfare, with the Cross of Recognition and appointed him an Officer of the Order.
What do you love most about your work?
I love the work process itself and the results, provided I have appropriate resources and opportunities. There are endless opportunities to learn, explore, analyse, express one’s opinion, discuss and develop students’ critical and scientific thinking. All of the above constitute an integral part of academic work.
Working with young, enthusiastic, curious and creative colleagues gives me great pleasure. It can be difficult to measure the results of pedagogical work and research since the results only become evident after some time has passed. Nonetheless, I get a lot of satisfaction learning about my students’ achievements in medicine and health care.
If I see that my knowledge and actions have had a positive impact on public health, I am happy.
The state decoration serves as proof that you have contributed to the growth and development of Latvia. What gives you most satisfaction?
The concept and the term “public health” did not exist in Latvia before the 1990s and the field epidemiology differed completely from the West. We had the opportunity to create a new academic discipline in Latvia, to build a team, create a study programme and develop research direction.
This process is not yet over, however, we do not have to explain the meaning of “public health” anymore, and almost all of my colleagues know that epidemiology is more than just controlling infectious diseases.
A new generation of professionals has been created and we now have brilliant practitioners and academicians. I believe that we have managed to have a positive impact on the quality of medicine and health sciences and in some cases, also on health policy. This newly gained understanding of public health and science-based medicine is very important for the development and growth of Latvia. Seeing the results is very satisfying.
What currently takes up most of your time and attention?
It should not come as a surprise that during the last few months most of my time and attention has been taken up by COVID-19, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified as a public health emergency.
WHO has asked all global public health and epidemiology professionals, regardless of their specialisation and interest, to make the most of their efforts to limit the outbreak. This is why I consider it to be my duty to collect scientific and practical information, participate in research and to develop public health literacy in this particular field.
At the same time, I have been continuing my duties as a teacher as well as the department’s administrative tasks, which is not that easy at the moment. I have just finished a remote course of lectures for doctoral students in epidemiology.
RSU Research Week is scheduled to take place in spring 2021. Are you going to participate, and if so, how?
I have started preparing for Research Week by getting involved with organising the conference Society. Health. Welfare. I am going to participate by managing sessions and giving presentations. I want to take this opportunity to invite all of my young and experienced RSU peers, other health sector specialists as well as everyone interested to participate in this conference! Abstract submissions are currently open until 15 January.
What should the people of Latvia consider if they want to see Latvia as a well-organised welfare state?
This is a broad question. Philosophical even. First, I had to think about the term “welfare state”. Let me quote Wikipedia: ‘The welfare state is a form of government in which the state protects and promotes the economic and social well-being of its citizens, based upon the principles of equal opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for citizens unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life.’ I guess the term “well-organised” can also be interpreted ideologically.
First, I would like to find out the attitude of the people of Latvia towards such a political ideology. To achieve the goal of becoming a welfare state, you first have to want it. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that the people of Latvia are quite egotistical. They value their own interests and freedoms higher than that of the public.
People have a great potential to gain the understanding that by respecting public interests, you promote the interests of the individual.
What gives you the strength and energy during difficult times?
My family (including my four-month-old granddaughter), my friends, my amazing colleagues and students. To wind down I work in the garden, listen to music (only recorded music for now), go see movies and read popular science literature. The public's appreciation for the work that has been done also gives me energy.
Christmas is approaching and so is New Year’s. What are your New Year’s wishes for RSU?
I wish for everyone to stay healthy! By everyone I mean the people of Latvia, because the university’s ability to return to its normal functions without emergency measures depends on society. I have no doubt that mankind will overcome this crisis and I wish for RSU to learn from the experience we have had and are yet to go through. As Winston Churchill once said: ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste!’
I wish RSU further development and for its reputation and recognition to continue growing! I would like each employee and student to be proud of being a part of RSU! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
The Cross of Recognition is an award for faithful service to Fatherland and outstanding merits in constitutional and public work, culture, science, sports, and education.