Professor David Nabarro awarded honorary degree from the University of Pretoria


Professor Nabarro receiving his honorary degree at a graduation ceremony at the University of Pretoria

Professor Nabarro receiving his honorary degree

The Co-Director of Imperial’s Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI) has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Pretoria.

Professor Sir David Nabarro received the degree of Doctor of Medicine (honoris causa) during a graduation ceremony last week, awarded in recognition of his exceptional contributions to society through his work in global health. The University of Pretoria is one of the most prestigious universities in South Africa and is highly regarded for its academic excellence and research contributions. Professor Nabarro has a long history of contributing to international public health, food security, and sustainable development, and has been at the forefront of global efforts to address major health crises, including COVID-19, Ebola, and malaria.

Professor Nabarro said: “I am deeply honoured to receive this recognition from the University of Pretoria and am most grateful to Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe and Professor Tiaan de Jager, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, for bestowing it on me.”

“Throughout my career, I have focused on the health of people in all nations. All I have achieved is thanks to what I have learnt from the many remarkable individuals and organisations, especially at local levels, with whom I have been able to work with over the last five decades.”

Professor Nabarro has been a frequent visitor to Africa and has been an advocate for stronger engagement of African institutions within the global health community. At the ceremony last week, Professor Nabarro was the featured guest at seminars in the University of Pretoria Faculty of Health Sciences and at the Future Africa Campus. At both events, he listened to senior academic staff present cutting edge work happening within the University, throughout South Africa and beyond, with a focus on reducing people’s food insecurity and health inequities.

During the seminars, post-doctoral staff and graduate students actively engaged in exploring how to work on health and food as living systems that are interconnected and constantly changing. They identified the skills needed to influence how these systems function, so they contribute to improvements in people’s food security, health, and wellbeing, particularly in response to threats such as the climate emergency, conflicts, and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Far-reaching impact

The University of Pretoria's decision to award Professor Nabarro an honorary doctorate reflects his standing as a world expert in public health and development. Throughout his career, as a local medical officer, academic, government servant and international diplomat, Sir David has consistently focused on options for improving health equity, people’s food security and nutrition within the context of shocks and uncertainty.

Professor Nabarro’s professional career spans more than four decades: during his 17 years in the UN system, he was called on to react to health crises, to coordinate responses to infectious diseases (malaria, bird flu, cholera, and Ebola), and to stimulate movements for improving nutrition. He was awarded the World Food Prize 2018, together with Lawrence Haddad, for their outstanding leadership and work in raising awareness and finding solutions to the issues of malnutrition and hunger around the world.

In 2018, Professor Nabarro was one of the founders of a Swiss-based social enterprise - Skills, Systems & Synergies for Sustainable Development (4SD). As the Strategic Director of 4SD Foundation, launched in 2023, Sir David encourages development practitioners to acquire the skills of living systems leadership and apply them in their work across different cultural, linguistic and sector contexts.

Since 2019, Professor Nabarro has been the Co-Director and Chair of Global Health at the IGHI, one of Imperial’s global challenge institutes, that aims to transform health for all through evidence-based innovation. The multidisciplinary team works across an impactful portfolio of academic and policy research, driving the adoption of innovation across international healthcare systems, while championing high-quality care.

In March 2020, Professor Nabarro was appointed as Special Envoy of the World Health Organization Director-General on COVID-19. Earlier this year, he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George for his services to global health.

Professor Nabarro is currently steering the IGHI’s work on climate change and health, including the Wellcome-funded Connecting Climate Minds project, which aims to better understand the mental health needs of global communities affected by climate change, and align research and action to support safer and healthier futures for all.


Emily Medcalf

Emily Medcalf
Institute of Global Health Innovation

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