March 25, 2020

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Let’s Not Forget the Women, Van Kerkhove ’99 Leads Global COVID-19 Response

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To the Editor:

Indeed, Dr. Anthony Fauci ’66 has become one of the faces of the U.S. COVID-19 response and impressed the nation with his leadership – but I can’t help but notice us overlooking Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove ’99 as she leads the global COVID-19 response. Simply tune into the WHO’s daily press conferences and you’ll see an incredible, Cornell-educated, badass woman keeping us safe and informed during these tumultuous times.

Soon after graduating from Cornell as a biology major in 1999, Van Kerkhove completed a one-year master’s degree in epidemiology at Stanford and later did her Ph.D. in infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Since then Van Kerkhove has spearheaded an impressive list of projects, ranging from a national dengue surveillance study in rural Cambodia in 2006 to the WHO’s Global Influence Programme during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009. She worked on yellow fever, Ebola, meningitis, Marburg, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome and countless other viruses with pandemic potential. It is people like Van Kerkhove that ensure these pandemics – ones that can upend our global social organization in a matter of weeks – do not occur.

But when they do slip the hands of leading epidemiologists like herself, Van Kerkhove is there at the frontlines ready to mitigate its spread. She now serves at the technical lead for the WHO’s global COVID-19 response and heads their emerging disease and zoonosis unit. When she is not sitting next to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the WHO, this Cornellian can be found traveling throughout the world to learn about governments’ responses to the COVID-19 outbreak, tracking daily cases as they surge in various countries across the continents, providing technical assistance to countries in need of infectious disease support and much more.

This letter in all of its brevity, unfortunately, does little to acknowledge her resume of accomplishments and efforts to safeguard our world against emerging infectious diseases like COVID-19. But as we continue to carry our Big Red spirit through these unprecedented times, let us rejoice in the positive impact that Fauci, Van Kerkhove and surely dozens of other Cornellians are making.


Dalton Price ’20