Professor Francesco Checchi
OBE MHS PhD
of Epidemiology and International Health
I am an epidemiologist whose main expertise is quantitative public health measurement and disease control in crisis (armed conflict, natural disaster, epidemic) settings. I have worked for Medecins Sans Frontieres, the World Health Organization and as a consultant for a variety of other agencies. I have spent several years at the School (2004-2012, 2017-present), and in between led Save the Children's humanitarian health team.
I have mixed experience in research, policy formulation and operational programme delivery in difficult and insecure settings. By mixed I mean diverse...although come to think of it some of it is definitely mixed.
I don't have a specific disease focus, though in the past I have done work on malaria, human African trypanosomiasis, tuberculosis, cholera, Ebola, acute malnutrition and vaccines. Now a lot of COVID-19.
My views on and tentative proposals for the future of humanitarian health are in this lecture.
I don't have many hobbies, but I do have a lot of anti-hobbies. The main ones are travel, jogging and spiders. I also hold somewhat inflammatory views on selfies, document fonts and Chelsea FC.
Last but not least - instead of reading my profile, might your time be better spent looking up the School's BLM and DGH initiatives? They have helped me to realise how little I've done to redress power imbalances in my professional life. There are a lot of us out there who urgently need to get our act together. (That said, I also sometimes fantasise about one day becoming the first "recolonising global health" radio shock-jock. I think it would work wonders in a reverse-psychology sort of way.)
MSc module Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases (co-organiser)
MSc module Conflict & Health
MSc module Applying Public Health Principles in Developing Countries
MSc in Humanitarian Health (co-director, under development)
I try to divide my time (the 8% left over after proposals and grant management) between academic research and technical support to humanitarian health actors, including UN agencies and NGOs, at global or field level.
My main area of activity is around improving public health information availability and use in ongoing crises worldwide (see this review). Specific projects include:
- Work package lead for the RECAP programme, focussing on developing methods to measure the performance of humanitarian health and protection responses in real-time;
- Estimating excess mortality due to crises through a mixture of secondary data collection and statistical analysis;
- Optimisation of pneumococcal vaccination strategies for different crisis contexts.
At any time, I am usually involved in several other smaller-scale projects. As a consequence of my previous programmatic role at Save the Children, I am increasingly interested in work that substantively addresses key problems in the way humanitarian (health) work is currently done, such as governance, accountability and public health decision-making.
Since March 2020, several colleagues and I have been doing a lot of COVID-19 work with a focus on low-income countries and humanitarian responses. Some of our output is here. We're now mainly focussing on supporting situational awareness of the pandemic in low-income countries, partly by trying to explain what accounts for the apparently low burden observed in these settings. My main view of the response to the pandemic so far is that many countries and response actors have suffered from a lack of strategic clarity. Many high-income countries have adopted late and inadequate suppression strategies (mainly by failing to set up test-and-trace systems to the scale required, and giving out very mixed social messaging), while also not properly exploring the alternative of super-shielding vulnerable sub-groups or at least implementing extraordinary, out-of-the-box measures to specifically protect those at high risk; the result is a very sub-optimal combination of conflicting approaches, none of which are sufficient. By contrast, many low- and middle-income countries have over-relied on incomplete surveillance data, and may not have sufficiently considered sensible mitigation strategies to reduce mortality as an alternative to protracted and only partially effective lockdowns.