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Professor Vikram Patel awarded Canada Gairdner Global Health Award

Professor Vikram Patel. Credit: James Duncan Davidson

Leading global mental health researcher and Honorary Professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Vikram Patel, has received the John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award 2019. 

The Award recognises Prof Patel’s work in generating knowledge on the burden and determinants of mental health problems in low and middle-income countries, as well as his pioneering new approaches for the prevention and treatment of mental health in low-resource settings.

Since its inception eight years ago, the Award has become one of the world’s most prestigious of its kind, recognising top scientists who have made outstanding achievements in global health research.

Currently Pershing Square Professor of Global Health at Harvard Medical School, Prof Patel was the founding director of the Centre for Global Mental Health, a partnership between the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Kings Health Partners. He is also the co-founder of Sangath, an Indian-based NGO that provides practical solutions to mental healthcare in developing countries. 

As recently as 10 years ago, it was difficult to imagine mental health problems being considered a global health priority. Today the situation is radically different with considerable attention from a diverse range of global health stakeholders, backed by resources, being focused on mental health, particularly in disadvantaged and low resourced contexts.

Prof Patel’s work and leadership has played a critical role in making this happen. By challenging many of the myths surrounding mental health problems in the global context, he has demonstrated that these problems are universal forms of human suffering. Prof Patel has highlighted the vicious cycle of deprivation and poor mental health and that mental health problems can profoundly affect the physical health and well-being of people.

Crucially Prof Patel’s work has demonstrated that psychosocial interventions can be effectively delivered through affordable community based providers, and that the human rights of people with mental health problems to access quality care and to a life with dignity, are global concerns.

Prof Patel said: “I am very proud that I have played a role in helping bridge the gaps between people with a lived experience and professionals to work together with mutual respect to address this challenge.

“Looking ahead I would hope that my work will contribute to alleviating the global burden of suffering due to mental health problems; both by improving access to quality care as well as by preventing mental health problems.

“When I received the call telling me that I was this year’s recipient of this incredible prize I was speechless, because I knew I was following in the footsteps of giants of global health – many of whom I consider my heroes. I was truly humbled.”

Prof Patel’s work has demonstrated the burden of mental disorders in low- and middle-income countries, and their strong association with poverty and other public health priorities, such as HIV and child growth and development.

He has applied a systematic approach to the design, delivery and evaluation of contextually appropriate psychosocial interventions provided by lay and community health providers. This has included the primary care treatment of depression, anxiety and alcohol use disorders, the community-based care of people with schizophrenia and autism, and the prevention and treatment of adolescent mental health problems through school-based interventions.

Previous recipients of the award from LSHTM include Sir Brian Greenwood in 2012 for his work on malaria, meningitis and pneumonia and Professor Peter Piot in 2015, for his work on the Ebola virus and HIV/AIDS.

You can hear more from Prof Patel about his global work tackling mental health in BBC Radio 4’s The Life Scientific.