Tribute From Africa to Johan Aarli

By Prof. Amadou Gallo DIOP, MD, PhD

Johan Aarli

We, in Africa, definitively consider Johan Aarli as the great and generous man who, as president of WFN, put Africa on the map of world neurology. He met with Prof. Michel Dumas in 2005 at the Sydney World Congress of Neurology (WCN). Prof. Dumas is one of the first French pioneers who installed neurology in Africa, Senegal, in the late 1950s. Prof. Aarli argued that African neurologists could not be absent in the new global affairs he was leading during his World Federation of Neurology (WFN) presidency. He rapidly cemented it by inviting, for the first time, African neurology leaders to attend a business meeting at the London headquarters in 2006. He generously accepted us and listened to our dreams and goals. He set up the WFN Africa Initiative with robust, sustainable, and efficient programs of training, bursaries, and exchanges.

He traveled to Africa (the first for a WFN president) because he was curious and excited to know us better for more substantial and structured support of neurological sciences in Africa. He endorsed, with respect and high consideration, the slogan we proposed to him: “With Africa; for Africa,” which became the WCN’s slogan in Marrakech (the wonderful and first WCN in Africa) in 2011. The outcome of Prof. Aarli’s “WFN Africa Initiative” is concrete, visible, measurable, and impacting:

  1. Four Regional Training Centers “in Africa, for Africa” (Cairo, Cape Town, Dakar, Rabat) receiving four-year and one-year trainees from African countries with priority for the those lacking neurosciences human resources. It led to training neurologists on site, in the continent, increasing their number and combating the brain drain.
  2. Travel bursaries for complementary hyperspecialized training for post-doctoral African fellows to voluntary hosting sites, such as Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Norway (Prof. Aarli’s country), and Turkey.
  3. Strong support to regional teaching courses (RTCs) with a powerful implication of institutions such as the AAN, EAN, and others.
  4. Facilities and bursaries for young African neurologists for attending the WCN and other major neuroscience congresses around the world.
  5. The establishment of the African Academy of Neurology (AFAN), in Dakar in 2010, was a tremendous and historic administration outcome of Johan Aarli’s global initiative and legacy.

Definitively, the smiley, generous gentleman Johan Aarli will count a lot in the history of neurology in developing countries, particularly in Africa, from where we send our condolences to his extraordinary wife, Gullburg, who was with him at every WFN event around the world. Also, to his colleagues in Norway and the successive WFN staff all these last years.

Thank you, dear Johan. Africa is grateful to you. God bless you. •

Prof. Amadou Gallo is head of the Dakar WFN Regional Training Center and past WFN trustee (2013-2016)