Intended for healthcare professionals


Peter Byass: global health specialist, epidemiologist, and teacher

BMJ 2020; 370 doi: (Published 10 September 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m3530
  1. Chris Mahony
  1. London, UK
  1. chris.mahony{at}

Epidemiologist Peter Byass was contributing to covid-19 research—including for the World Health Organization—right up to his sudden death from a heart attack in August.

A specialist in measuring health outcomes in low and middle income countries (LMICs) in Africa and Asia, Byass published more than 300 papers, led work on the health impact of climate change, and campaigned for the election of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as WHO director general in 2017. He had kept in touch with Tedros since supervising the Ethiopian’s doctoral degree when the latter was a student at the University of Nottingham 17 years earlier.

At the daily WHO covid-19 media briefing, days after Byass died, Tedros paid tribute to “my dear friend and mentor who was a committed and talented servant of global health who helped many people shine around the world.”

Low and middle income countries

Tedros was one of dozens of scientists and doctors from LMICs supported by Byass, who believed strongly in building local capacity rather than having health initiatives driven from Western universities and non-governmental organisations. While he has the highest profile, Tedros is just one of several former students now in senior clinical, research, or administrative positions across Africa and south east Asia.

Byass’s passion for Africa began during a whirlwind three months in 1978, when he completed his BSc in Nottingham in July; married his wife, Margaret, in August; and began a three year stint teaching (with Margaret) at a Methodist missionary school in Sierra Leone in September. Religion played a central part throughout his …

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