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Peter Salama: medical epidemiologist who transformed global efforts to tackle major disease emergencies

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 27 February 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m725
  1. Matt Limb
  1. Croydon, UK
  1. limb{at}
Credit: WHO

Medical epidemiologist Peter Salama, a leading figure in the World Health Organization and Unicef, shook up global efforts to tackle major disease emergencies such as Ebola. He is credited with helping to rebuild WHO’s reputation after experts criticised its slow and disorganised response to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa (2013-16).1

As WHO’s head of health emergencies from 2016 to 2019 he oversaw reforms that analysts say transformed aspects of its approach and bore fruit in subsequent disease outbreaks.

Salama’s sudden death from a suspected heart attack, aged 51, has shocked the global health community.

Only last year, as WHO’s head of universal health coverage, he had started ambitious new work to improve health systems and health outcomes in “fragile states.”

Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, says Salama’s influence can be found in a more proactive and research based approach to tackling epidemics. His “energy and drive” at WHO were important in supporting the development of an Ebola vaccine and its use “as a public health tool which has had a dramatic impact,” says Farrar. “It’s a remarkable legacy to have left. There are huge lessons to be learnt now as we start to deal with novel coronaviruses.”

Ebola response

More than 11 000 people died in the Ebola outbreak that wrecked economies …

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