Read the statement: Virchow Prize for Global Health – Statement by Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong
recognizes and celebrates lifetime achievements of those who dedicate their lives to improving the health and wellbeing of the world’s most vulnerable people. This year, Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong, the Department of State’s U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Health Diplomacy, was selected unanimously by the Virchow Prize Committee; which based their decision on the exceptionally impressive and outstanding role he has demonstrated since his earliest beginnings in scientific research. That was underscored by his establishment of crucial global health institutions and education, including training of new generations of global health scientists, activists, and diplomats, which contribute to raised awareness on the essential need for international cooperation in health.
Nkengasong has a three-decade-long career of trailblazing contributions to global health. He spent most of his career pioneering innovations to eliminate global health inequities at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; pioneer in building the first state-of-the-art HIV laboratory in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire; inaugural chief of the Division of Global HIV and Tuberculosis’ Laboratory Branch. In addition, he served as the acting deputy principal director of the CDC’s Center for Global Health. His inspired leadership drove him to establish the African Society for Laboratory Medicine, the first organization of its kind to build a network of laboratory science professionals who are now connected and coordinating across the continent of Africa and beyond. He also established the African Journal of Laboratory Medicine – a respected and open access journal where laboratory-focused research is double blind peer-reviewed and published, advancing the field and contributing to a body of research about clinical and public health with practical applications for laboratory medicine practices in Africa.
Following a heralded career of leadership at U.S. CDC, Nkengasong became the pioneer director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. As the first to serve as the newly established organization’s director, Nkengasong worked with a small team to transform this specialized technical institution of the African Union into a fully autonomous and respected health agency. During his tenure, the COVID-19 pandemic posed a considerable threat to the continent. Nkengasong, in accordance with Africa CDC’s charge to detect, prevent, control and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats, became a World Health Organization director general’s special envoy on COVID-19. In that capacity, he led the COVID-19 response in Africa in close coordination with heads of state and governments across the continent to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. His efforts, closely coordinated with Strive Masiyiwa, founder and executive chairman of Econet Group and Cassava Technologies; Dr. Vera Songwe of UNECA; and Professor Benedict Oramah of the Africa Export-Import Bank, helped secure 400 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines at the height of vaccine scarcity. Nkengasong has been knighted by Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegal in recognition of his numerous contributions in global health and has authored over 250 scientific-peer reviewed publications. He was recognized as a Time Magazine 100 most influential people in the world in 2021 and ranked fourth by Fortune magazine as one of the 25 world’s great leaders in 2021.
In early 2022, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. selected Nkengasong to head the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which is the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease in history, prevent millions of HIV infections, save lives, and make progress toward ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Within days of assuming the role, he began holding listening sessions with internal and external global stakeholders to inform decisions about reimagining PEPFAR for the future, as he now leads the nearly 20-year effort to end HIV/AIDS as a public health threat.
The Virchow Prize for Global Health is awarded by the Virchow Foundation for Global Health, an independent non-profit foundation that strives to raise awareness about global health issues in a holistic approach, addressing all sectors of society, with the aim of improving health and well-being. Winners of this prestigious award receive a monetary prize of €500,000, which Nkengasong asked the foundation to donate to organizations in sub-Saharan Africa that address inequities among vulnerable populations.
To be honored with the Virchow Prize for Global Health affirms Nkengasong’s successful global health pioneering and lifelong leadership and dedication to achieving health for all.