I trained as a biologist and ecologist (BA York) but postgraduate research on mosquitoes (DPhil Oxford) led me into epidemiology and public health. Initially based at Imperial College and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (1982-96), I did research on bloodsucking insects as vectors of leishmaniasis, malaria and river blindness in Africa, Asia and South America, and on the role of domestic and wild animals as reservoirs of human infection and disease.
I joined the World Health Organization in 1996, where part of my job was to develop ways of analysing the vast quantities of routine surveillance data (‘big data’) collected by government health departments worldwide ─ extracting signal from noise to devise better methods for understanding and controlling tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and Ebola and Zika viruses.
I was WHO’s Director of Strategy from 2014 to 2018, which combined roles as science advisor to the Director General, oversight of the production and dissemination of health information, and coordination of WHO’s work on health and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Now back in Oxford, I am interested in the economic, environmental, social and behavioural determinants of health, and especially in the way people value and make choices about staying healthy and preventing disease (see ‘The Great Health Dilemma’, OUP 2021). Many of the ideas about choice and decision-making have applications in ecology and conservation, as well as for epidemiology and disease control, and I am keen to explore the common factors across all of biology.