Professor Sir Richard Feachem KBE FREng, one of the world’s most influential public health policy advisors, will receive The Royal Academy of Engineering’s prestigious Sir Frank Whittle Medal next week for his novel, engineering-based approach to managing aid and controlling some of the most virulent diseases. Lord Browne of Madingley, President of The Royal Academy of Engineering, will present the medal to Sir Richard at the Academy on Monday 17 January.

Sir Richard is Professor of Global Health at the University of California, San Francisco and at Berkeley and Executive Director of UCSF Global Health Sciences. He is one of the most distinguished engineers working in the field of health encompassing the control of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and water borne diseases.

Academy President Lord Browne of Madingley says “Sir Richard’s contribution to improving global health, while based on his engineering skills, has expanded to cover the whole endeavour of international development. He has completely changed the philosophy of large international organisations and NGOs in their attitude to funding, the types of projects to be funded and the interdisciplinary effort needed to achieve positive outcomes for some of the world's poorest people.”

Sir Richard graduated in civil engineering from University of Birmingham. He obtained his PhD from the University of New South Wales, with two years of field work living with the peoples of Papua New Guinea. When he returned from Australia in 1974 the Department of Civil Engineering at Birmingham created a post for him. He immediately set up an interdisciplinary group to investigate the effectiveness of aid in providing water and sanitation facilities in developing countries. It soon became apparent that much of the aid was wasted as the facilities fell into disrepair. Working in Lesotho he persuaded donors to simplify their designs and to provide funds to train local people, often women, in the maintenance of their schemes so that they took ownership of their facilities.

In 1976 he was offered a lectureship at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and over the next 12 years he was promoted to a senior lecturer, reader and professor. During this period he was seconded for a year to WHO and a year to the World Bank. In 1989 he was appointed as Dean (Chief Executive) a remarkable tribute for an engineer and he proved a worthy successor to Sir Francis Lovell and Sir Patrick Mason.

In 1995 he was appointed Director of the Health, Nutrition and Population sector at the World Bank, a post he held for four years. In addition to shaping World Bank policy in this sector, and its response to the rapidly emerging HIV/AIDs epidemic, he was responsible for oversight of 155 projects in 82 countries with a value of several billion dollars.

In 1999 he sought greater freedom to develop his own ideas. He became the Founding Director of the Institute for Global Health at the University of California, San Francisco.

In 2002 Sir Richard was appointed as Under Secretary General of the United Nations and Founding Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, based in Geneva. He led the development of its business model and its growth from scratch. When he left five years later to return to San Francisco, the Global Fund had become the largest and most influential financer of health provision in developing countries with assets of $11 billion supporting 450 programmes in 136 countries.

In 2007 he founded the Global Health Group at UCSF, an “action tank” dedicated to moving new ideas into large scale action in developing countries. It is sponsored by national and international partners including the Gates Foundation and ExxonMobil.

“I am deeply honoured to be receiving this year’s Whittle Medal from the Royal Academy of Engineering”, said Sir Richard. “Guided by my initial training in civil engineering, I have focused my professional life on development and global health. This experience, and especially the lessons learned from building the Global Fund, has convinced me that aid is in need of bold and radical reform to make it fit for the 21st century. I look forward to addressing the Royal Academy of Engineering on this topic.”

Watch the video from this event

Notes for editors

  1. Named after Britain’s jet engine genius, the Sir Frank Whittle Medal was first awarded in 2001 to the creator of the world-wide web, Professor Tim Berners-Lee OBE FREng FRS for his achievements in communication. Last year it was awarded to Professor Sir Michael Brady FREng FRS FMedSci, BP Professor of Information Engineering at the University of Oxford, for his achievements in medical imaging and robotics.
  2. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.
  3. The Academy has an active international development programme and is a founder member of the Africa-UK Engineering for Development Partnership, for more information see:
    International Development

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering
Tel. 020 7766 0636; email: Jane Sutton