On World Food Day, he tells us about his research on nutritionally at-risk infants in Ethiopia, his proudest career achievement and the best career advice he’s been given.
What is your role at LSHTM / MRC Unit The Gambia at LSHTM / MRC/UVRI and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit, and what does it involve?
I wear two complementary and interlinked LSHTM ‘hats’, both of which I love. I’m Programme Director for the MSc Nutrition for Global Health and I research severe malnutrition in infants and children and its long-term effects.
How long have you worked here (and what was your previous job)?
I’ve worked at LSHTM since 2014. I joined straight after finishing my clinical specialty training in Public Health. I also did my own MSc in Public Health for Development at LSHTM back in 2004/5 – my wife Hannah Blencowe is now Programme Director!
Where are you from?
I’m a South Londoner and Southern Slav. I was born and grew up in Wimbledon Park, near the famous tennis grounds, but my family roots are in Yugoslavia (now Serbia).
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
First a pilot, then an explorer, later a doctor. I’m fortunate to have elements of all in my work: I travel lots (though by train when I can); I get to meet inspiring people from all over the world; and though I no longer do clinical work, most of my research is very front-line/patient-focused.
Tell us about a project you’re currently working on?
I’m currently in Jimma, Ethiopia working on a large randomised trial, ‘MAMI RISE’. Our aim is to better identify and support small and nutritionally-at risk infants under 6 months old. Through this, we seek to inform and influence national and international policy guidance ensuring that all vulnerable infants and their mothers/carers have access to effective treatment services.
How can we learn more about MAMI RISE?
What three words would you use to describe your role?
Challenging, rewarding, motivating.
What is your favourite thing about working here?
I love teaching, tutoring, mentoring and learning from our wonderful MSc and PhD students. It’s especially satisfying to see them grow and develop. I rarely go to a international meeting or conference where I don’t meet at least one LSHTM graduate playing a lead role in their organisation or country.
“When I’m not working I am…”
Cold water swimming in Parliament Hill Lido; daydreaming about future travel plans; pestering Hannah and our children with dad jokes.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever been given?
Seek ‘IKIGAI’, a Japanese concept describing a life purpose which combines: what you love; what the world needs; what you’re good at; what you can be paid for.
What is your proudest career achievement?
Being part of the WHO Guideline Development Group on Infant/Child Malnutrition and playing my small part in highlighting the needs of some previously neglected groups (infants <6 months old; children with underlying disability).
Who is your biggest inspiration?
I most value family and friends – too many to detail here. My scientific hero is Nikola Tesla. A true genius, generations ahead of his time. Sadly however, he could have left the world so much more had he better communicated his work. A lesson for us all there…
What is your favourite place?
I have many! Top three are:
- Novi Sad: my parents’ home in Serbia (current European capital of culture)
- Ethiopia: where I currently work – an inspiring country with incredibly long and rich history
- Guyana: where I did a Raleigh International Expedition – a country of adventure which boasts virgin rainforest, towering waterfalls and rivers where you can still pan for gold
What would it surprise people to know about you?
Returning from Serbia to London in 2018, I met Novak Djokovic on the plane and wished him ‘good luck’ for Wimbledon. He went on to win. My youngest son was a ‘good luck mascot’ for the 2019 Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tennis tour finals and held Stephanos Tsisipas’ hand as he walked on court. Tsisipas also won that tournament. While, of course, association does not equal causation, why miss this chance to wish our new students “Good luck!” for a happy and successful MSc…
How does being a member of MARCH support your work?
MARCH makes a big difference: it’s an important forum to link with and learn from current and future global health experts. MARCH communications are also key to showcasing and communicating research findings.
Why is World Food Day important?
World Food Day reminds us that work is needed to improve nutrition globally: almost 1 billion people are hungry/undernourished and worldwide obesity has tripled since 1975. Yet solutions exist. Every $1 invested in nutrition returns $16 to local economies since nutrition affects multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
There cannot be any complacency as to the need for global action.
With your help, we can plug critical gaps in the understanding of COVID-19. This will support global response efforts and help to save lives around the world.