March 28, 2011

Robert Black of SPH recognized for contributions to child health

Robert Edward Black, an international expert in the prevention of childhood mortality and illness, is the recipient of the 2011 Canada Gairdner Global Health Award. The annual award from the Gairdner Foundation recognizes individuals responsible for a scientific advancement that has made, or has the potential to make, significant impact on health in the developing world. Black received the $100,000 award for his “significant contributions to improving child survival and particularly for critical clinical and epidemiological studies to reduce childhood diarrheal deaths.”

Established in 1959, the Gairdner Global Health Award is considered among the most important biomedical prizes in the world.

Throughout his career, Black, who is the Edgar Berman Professor of International Health and chair of the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has worked to reduce worldwide child diarrheal deaths by conducting epidemiologic research on the interaction of infectious diseases and nutrition. Diarrhea is a treatable and preventable infectious disease that kills more than 1.3 million children each year. It is the second-leading cause of death in children worldwide.

Specifically, Black discovered that zinc could both treat and prevent diarrhea. His studies in Bangladesh, India, Peru and Zanzibar demonstrated that daily zinc supplementation significantly reduced the severity of diarrhea and pneumonia. These discoveries led the World Health Organization and UNICEF to recommend the global use of zinc for treatment of diarrhea, a practice that is now implemented in 40 low-income countries.

“This award recognizes Dr. Black’s seminal contributions to improving the health of children and saving lives,” Michael J. Klag, dean of the Bloomberg School, said. “It is especially fitting that he receives this honor as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Department of International Health, which he chairs.”

Black’s research interests include field trials of vaccines, micronutrients and nutritional interventions; effectiveness studies of health programs, such as the Integrated Management of Childhood Illness approach; and evaluation of preventive and curative health service programs in low- and middle-income countries. He focuses on using evidence in policy and programs, including estimates of burden of disease, the development of research capacity and the strengthening of public health training.

Trained in internal medicine, preventive medicine, infectious diseases and epidemiology, Black has served as a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and worked at institutions in Bangladesh and Peru on research related to childhood infectious diseases and nutritional problems. As a member of the U.S. Institute of Medicine and advisory bodies of the World Health Organization, the International Vaccine Institute and other international organizations, he assists with the development of policies intended to improve child health.