Gunilla Myrberg was a science journalist, author and pioneer in the field of women’s health, on which she sometimes reported in the popular radio programme Kropp & Själ.
Gunilla Myrberg was born in Stockholm in 1932. Her father was Gustaf Bruno, a managing director, and her mother was Barbro Bengtsson. Her mother was widowed in 1943 after her husband’s sudden death. Gunilla Myrberg was only eleven years old and her brother four. Their mother remarried and the children were adopted by their stepfather. Gunilla Myrberg had two new half-siblings.
The family rented Helgesta and Skåra farms near Nyköping and Gunilla Myrberg had to move from her school in the upper-class suburb of Östermalm in Stockholm to a small rural school. She was unhappy but luckily met her classmate Kajsa Wilhelmsson, a friendship that would last all her life. They both became journalists. Gunilla Myrberg was good at school and although for her brother it was self-evident to continue his education at a university, Gunilla Myrberg was expected to get married and start a family. Gunilla Myrberg did not however want to end up in the planned role of wife and mother but sought her own professional identity. She moved back to Stockholm and lived at the home of her maternal aunt Juttan while she took her higher school certificate at the Whitlockska coeducational school. After that, she trained as a secretary at Frans Schartau’s Handelsinstitut.
Gunilla Myrberg met her husband-to-be Martin Myrberg, who had qualified in social studies. They married in 1952 and had four children. She started working at Åhlén & Åkerlund at the age of 23, and from 1955 she worked as a freelance journalist in the daily and weekly press, radio and TV. She had various assignments at Sveriges Radio, until she was made a news reporter focusing on medical sciences in 1975. The general public demanded more accessible news reporting, then as now, and Gunilla Myrberg succeeded though her reports in bridging the gap between researchers and the general public.
Gunilla Myrberg was very engaged in social issues with her heart to the left. She was a lively activist against the Vietnam war and a member of the Chile committee, worked for toxin-free food, for saving the hedgehogs on the Baltic island of Gotland, and for the leftist party, but her position as an employee at Sveriges Radio demanded objectivity and her activist engagement could not be allowed to affect her role as a journalist. There was less risk for political views in her engagement in A Non Smoking Generation, where she was early on forward-looking concerning the enormous role played by tobacco for ill health and deaths in the country. In her work against smoking tobacco, Gunilla Myrberg took part in 1993–1995 in one of the nationwide educational projects of the health authority Folkhälsoinstitutet’s (now Folkhälsomyndigheten) campaign for non-smoking pregnancy. The entire maternity healthcare organisation in Sweden was educated in how to stop mothers from smoking. Gunilla Myrberg was praised for her good results from using humour and concern for women’s conditions in life to reduce pregnant women’s smoking significantly.
Gunilla Myrberg was often quick to present new knowledge from several medical fields of research. She did not try to evade clarifying important contributions in traditionally less-noticed fields like for example research about the elderly, the menopause or tobacco prevention. Her persistent work in among others the field of the menopause led to the initiation of interdisciplinary research into this phase of women’s lives. Women’s health became an ever more important scientific field as new knowledge appeared about how women’s differences from men medically, biologically and psychologically affect research results, prevention and treatment. She was careful to report hidden, unglamorous illnesses and symptoms, like dizziness, pain in the joints, incontinence and other things that nobody ever described but from which many suffered. She was engaged in women’s issues and monitored research studies on women so that they were awarded the same amount of attention and interest in the media as studies on men. Gunilla Myrberg took up these subjects in her programmes, books and lectures. During the 1980s, she, Maj Fant and Kerstin Franzén arranged the much-praised Women over 40 camp on Gotland.
Dementia research was yet another field to which Gunilla Myrberg paid attention in her work as a journalist. She communicated with great engagement the latest research results in molecular biology and genetics as the development of the therapeutic patient-centred work in this field. This led to the association Alzheimerföreningen i Sverige being founded in 1985 and there she was made an honorary member. Queen Silvia, who is herself engaged in these matters, observed Gunilla Myrberg’s good ability to communicate this subject and recommended her participation in events at the Stiftelsen Silviahemmet, a care and educational unit for dementia illnesses.
Gunilla Myrberg’s engagement in ethical issues was strong and in her research reporting she always emphasised the ethical dimension of what she was communicating. Her knowledge on and engagement in these questions led to her election as a member of several medical and ethical councils like for example Svenska Läkaresällskapets delegation for medical ethics, Karolinska Institutet’s ethics council and Etiska gruppen för cancergenetisk rådgivning at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Gothenburg.
Gunilla Myrberg retired in 1997, after which she was active as a freelance journalist at the Sveriges Radio science editorial office and made about 40 programmes there in the series Vetandets värld. She undertook an extensive amount of lecturing and for more than 20 years wrote books, partly on the subject of women’s health and partly on cancer, dementia and ethics. She was awarded several distinguished prizes on several occasions for her journalism. For her many years of contributions to making scientific data easily accessible and increasing knowledge on common but often long-term health problems, she was elected the popular educator of the year 2000 by the association Vetenskap och Folkbildning (VoF). At the time of her retirement, she was awarded an honorary doctorate in medicine in 2001 at Karolinska Institutet and also assigned the title of professor as well as H. M. The King's Medal in gold of the eighth grade with bright blue ribbon.
With precise language, objectivity, a feeling for scientific news value, great personal involvement and a pronounced feeling for ethical values, Gunilla Myrberg made a significant contribution to strengthening the links between the academy and the community. She perseveringly compelled the scientific arena to encompass the vision of how vital research was on and for women’s health.
Gunilla Myrberg died in 2017. She is buried in the Galärvarvskyrkogården in Stockholm.