Tropical disease expert Adetokunbo Lucas wins humanitarian award

Adetokunbo Lucas

Adetokunbo Lucas

January 29, 2013 — Adetokunbo Lucas, who earned a master of science in hygiene at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) in 1964 and went on to play a major international role in fighting neglected tropical diseases, has won a Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Humanitarian Award from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID).

Established by the NFID in 1997, the award honors individuals for work that has contributed significantly to the health and welfare of humankind. The first recipients were Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. Other previous recipients included Bill Clinton, Bill and Melinda Gates, and William Foege, MPH ’65, who helped eradicate smallpox.

See a list of past award winners.

Appointed as professor of international health at HSPH in 1990 and, since 1995, an adjunct professor of population and international health, Lucas has worked over the years as a clinician, medical educator, researcher, administrator, policy specialist, and public health leader.

In 1976, Lucas was appointed director of the World Health Organization’s Tropical Diseases Research Programme (TDR), run in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program and the World Bank. Under his 10-year leadership, the program collaborated with academic institutions and drug companies on the development of new products to fight leprosy, onchocerciasis (river blindness), African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), and other tropical diseases.

“A new pattern of public-private partnership emerged from TDR’s collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry,” Lucas said in an interview, noting that several drug companies now donate medications to fight tropical diseases. “This new model of pharmaco-philanthropy is accelerating the elimination of major neglected tropical diseases.”

Lucas came to study at HSPH in 1963—already armed with a medical degree and diplomas in public health and tropical medicine—to boost his skills in statistics and epidemiology. He later returned to his homeland, Nigeria, where he taught clinical and community medicine at the University of Ibadan, serving as head of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine for 11 years. He noted that his decision in 1962 to switch his focus from clinical work to public health was “perhaps my most important contribution to health services in Nigeria.”

Lucas was one of 20 distinguished people to receive the Harvard Medal at the university’s 350th anniversary celebration in 1986. He will receive the Carter humanitarian award at a dinner in Arlington, Va. on March 5, 2013.

–Karen Feldscher