Ebola worries make for timely arrival of award-winning disease expert

Wednesday 8 April 2015

New Zealand’s leading infectious disease epidemiologist, Michael Baker, takes up his new role in London as a NZ-UK Link Foundation Visiting Professor this month. He will be based at the University of London’s School of Advanced Study (SAS) for 12 weeks from 20 April.

The professor of public health at the University of Otago, Wellington arrives in the UK as reports about infectious diseases are at the top of the news agenda. And while in London he will give a series of free public talks outlining the way pandemic infections continue to shape modern societies and emphasising the importance of providing effective, science-based response to these emergencies.

These four lectures will draw on lessons learned from previous pandemics, consider why infectious diseases are closely linked to poverty, question whether pandemic diseases can be stopped at borders, and look at the importance of effective surveillance to support early detection and control. The first lecture at the Imperial War Museum, is followed by events at The Wellcome Trust, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and The Guildhall (supported by the City of London).

‘My aim is to build on the strong links that already exist between the UK and New Zealand in how we tackle the challenging problems of emerging infectious diseases,’ said Professor Baker. ‘I have been inspired by world leading UK scholars such as University College London’s Sir Michael Marmot, Professor Neil Ferguson at Imperial College and Professors David Heymann and Martin McKee at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

‘My area of research while in the UK has taken on fresh urgency with the emergence of Ebola as a global health concern. I very much look forward to the opportunity the Visiting Professorship provides to pursue these research questions, and to contribute to the mission of the Foundation and to the academic community in London.’

The award-winning academic, who was educated at the Universities of Auckland and Otago, is well respected and has published and presented his research widely. He is a highly-effective communicator with many keynote lectures at national and international conferences under his belt, and more than 230 papers published in peer-reviewed journals.

Sir Graeme Davies, Chairman of the NZ-UK Link Foundation said: ‘Professor Baker comes to the UK at a very important time as all countries in the Western World grabble with the humanitarian and civil defence challenge of diseases like Ebola. I have no doubt that he will add significantly to the debate as it is taken forward in the time ahead.’

Professor Baker is an active participant on government advisory bodies within New Zealand and internationally with the World Health Organisation. His current research projects include a national case-control study of rheumatic fever and a leading role in the Southern Hemisphere Influenza and Vaccine Effectiveness Research and Surveillance (SHIVERS) Study funded by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. 

‘This is an excellent appointment for the School of Advanced Study. Although our main focus is humanities research, we are committed to promoting interdisciplinary dialogue with the sciences and social sciences,’ said Professor Philip Murphy, Deputy Dean of SAS and director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. ‘Professor Baker’s work demonstrates the value of this kind of dialogue to urgent current concerns such as the control of pandemic diseases, drawing as it does on the work of historians who have studied the way governments in earlier decades dealt with this challenge.’

NZ-UK Link Foundation Visiting Professorship programme of public lectures, April-July 2015:

13 May 2015, 17:30–20:00
Pandemics: can we learn the lessons of history? Flyer [PDF]
Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London SE1 6HZ

4 June 2015, 12:00–15:00
Infectious diseases and pandemics: why are they linked to poverty? Flyer [PDF]
The Wellcome Trust, Gibbs Building, 215 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE

2 July 2015, 18:30–20:30
Early detection of emerging infectious diseases: can we do better? Flyer [PDF]

15 July 2015 Arrive 18:00–20:30 start
Stopping pandemic diseases at the border: can it be done? Flyer [PDF]
City of London – Guildhall, Gresham Street, London, EC2V 7HH

NZ-UK Link Foundation Visiting Professorship programme of public lectures, April-July flyer [PDF]

Notes for editors

1. For further information please contact Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations Officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8653 / Maureen.mctaggart@sas.ac.uk. Images available on request.

2. The Visiting Professors are chosen by a selection panel comprising, NZ-UK Link Foundation Trustees and Professors at the University of London.

3. The NZ-UK Link Foundation is a registered charity whose primary objective is to make ‘an ongoing substantial contribution to the intellectual, educational, vocational and academic underpinning of the bilateral relationship in a changing world’. www.nzuklinkfoundation.org

4. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities and celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2015. It was officially opened on 15 March 1995, by Sir Anthony Kenny as a federation of the University of London’s research institutes and, since then, has established itself as the UK’s national humanities hub, publicly funded to support and promote research in the humanities nationally and internationally. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. In 2013-14, SAS: welcomed 743 research fellows and associates; held 2,081 research dissemination events; received 26.4 million visits to its digital research resources and platforms; and received 202,891 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. A series of anniversary events and activities will take place throughout 2015. Find out more at www.sas.ac.uk or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.

5. Professor Michael Baker is a public health physician and professor at the University of Otago, Wellington. He is co-director for He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme, director of the Health, Environment and Infection Research Unit and of Continuing Professional Development for the New Zealand College of Public Health Medicine. His research interests include the prevention and control of pandemic infectious diseases, social inequalities, disease surveillance, health effects of household crowding, and housing and health generally. He has held a range of advisory positions within New Zealand and internationally including previous membership of the New Zealand Pandemic Influenza Technical Advisory Group, current membership New Zealand Food Safety and Assurance Advisory Council and the World Health Organisation Regional Verification Commission for Measles Elimination in the Western Pacific Region. In 2013 Professor Baker was awarded the HRC Liley Medal for his outstanding contribution to the health and medical sciences, and in 2014 his Housing and Health Research Programme was awarded the Prime Minister’s Science Prize.