Press release

Jimmy Whitworth to take up epidemic preparedness role at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Dr Jimmy Whitworth, Head of Population Health at the Wellcome Trust, is to take up a new role at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The role, funded by the Trust for an initial three years, is intended to strengthen the global response to infectious disease epidemics in the wake of the Ebola crisis.

Initially this will involve coordinating and stimulating the research already underway in the worst affected regions of West Africa, identifying any gaps and ensuring that we learn all we can from research into experimental vaccines and therapeutics while there are still active cases of the infection.

In the longer term, the role will help shape the way we prepare for, and respond to, future outbreaks of Ebola and other infectious diseases in West Africa, the UK and globally. This will involve close cooperation with the organisations leading the Ebola response, including the World Health Organization, the UK Department for International Development, USAID, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.

Commenting on his appointment, Dr Whitworth said: "Although new infections are thankfully showing signs of slowing, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is far from over. There is an urgent need to rebuild health systems and services in the three worst affected countries in the region, which have all but collapsed under the strain of this disease.

"A key part of this is equipping a community of research professionals in these regions with expertise in surveillance, epidemiology and public health so that future outbreaks can be identified and contained quickly."

The Wellcome Trust has already committed over £10m during the current Ebola epidemic to fund research into clinical and public health interventions with a potential benefit in West Africa. Part of Dr Whitworth's new role will be making sure that the outcomes of this work go into improving the way we respond to infectious disease outbreaks.

Dr Whitworth added: "While recent outbreaks of diseases like SARS, pandemic flu, MERS CoV and of course Ebola have been devastating, we've been lucky in a way that they have not developed into serious global pandemics. The impact of future outbreaks of these and other diseases will be defined by how prepared we are as a global community. In the UK, this means capitalising on the latest advances in genomics, microbiology and computing to improve surveillance and help ensure resources are deployed rapidly to the right places."

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, added: "We're indebted to Jimmy for all he's achieved over his 11 years at the Trust and wish him the best of luck with his next challenge. He has made a unique and enduring contribution to international health over the last decade and helped transform the Trust into the global organisation it is today. His new role with the London School will be instrumental in ensuring that we glean the maximum impact from research efforts underway in the Ebola affected regions and will in the longer term help to shape the way governments and other organisations, including the Wellcome Trust, respond to future infectious disease epidemics."

Professor Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: "I've worked with Jimmy for many years and I am delighted to be welcoming him back to the School. His expertise will be greatly valued in continuing our efforts to tackle the current Ebola epidemic. His contributions will also help ensure we learn all we can from the Ebola crisis, so the world can better prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks which are sadly inevitable."

Dr Whitworth will take up his role in March and will have a base both at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and in Freetown, Sierra Leone.