Mathuram Santosham, MD, MPH, has received the Prince Mahidol Award 2017 in the field of Public Health, which recognizes “outstanding contribution in the field of public health for the sake of the well-being of the peoples.”
Dr. Santosham, who serves as Senior Advisor in the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) and Director Emeritus of the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health (CAIH) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, will travel to Bangkok at the end of this month to receive this prestigious award in recognition of his landmark scientific contribution to the control of Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and pneumococcal disease around the world.
The Prince Mahidol Award was established in 1992 to honor the late Prince Mahidol of Songka, the Royal Father of His Majesty the King of Thailand. Prince Mahidol modernized medical services and education in Thailand, and is known to the country as the “Father of Modern Medicine and Public Health.” Dr. Santosham will jointly receive the award with Professor Porter Warren Anderson Jr., Dr. Rachel Schneerson, and Dr. John B. Robbins.
Professor Mathuram Santosham
Dr. Santosham has been a pioneer of the Hib scientific field through his instrumental role in a 30-year campaign to understand the global burden and epidemiology of the disease in various populations. Dr. Santosham, citing his early childhood experiences in India as his foundation, was driven to focus on issues of vaccine access and coverage for the world’s most vulnerable and underserved populations.
Over the past decade, Dr. Santosham has served as a leader in global, regional, and country-focused post-licensure work that moved evidence to policy, and onward to implementation and scale-up, ensuring that children around the world, especially those most in need, had access to these life-saving vaccines.
Dr. Santosham’s work on pivotal efficacy studies in high-risk populations led to the eventual licensure of Hib conjugate vaccine for infants. Due to Dr. Santosham’s efforts, as of 2017, 190 countries (98% of all) countries in the world now include Hib conjugate vaccine and 140 (72% of all) countries include pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in their routine infant immunization programs.
In 1990, less than 30 years ago, no country was using these vaccines. It is estimated that over 3 million deaths will have been averted from 2000 through 2020, and millions more in the decades to follow, because of Hib and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines.
It is not just reduced mortality that Dr. Santosham’s work has impacted – an incalculable burden of morbidity is not captured in these numbers, including devastating consequences children often suffer the following illness, financial return on investments for low- and middle-income countries who have rolled out these vaccines, and economic benefits to families who have avoided catastrophic expenditures that occur when a child becomes sick or hospitalized.
It is not only his professional achievements that have made Dr. Santosham a stand-out candidate for this award, but also the effect he has had on his colleagues, peers, and mentees. Supporting letters from leading experts extolled Santosham’s “compassion, humility, integrity, and humanitarianism.”
Previous winners of the Prince Mahidol Award from the School of Public Health include former chair of International Health Robert Black, MD, MPH in 2011 for his work studying the impact of daily zinc supplementation on diarrhea and pneumonia in Bangladesh, India, Peru, and Zanzibar; Alfred Sommer, MD, MHS in 1997 for his vitamin A discoveries; former dean D.A. Henderson, MD, MPH in 2015 for his leadership of the World Health Organization’s global smallpox eradication campaign; and former chair of the Department of Epidemiology Jonathan Samet, MD, MS in 2014 for his role in protecting the public’s health from air pollution.
The Prince Mahidol Award, to be conferred as an international award on individual(s) or institution(s), is established by royal permission in honour of His Royal Highness Prince Mahidol of Songkla. It is the only award of which ceremony is presided over by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand every year. His Majesty the King graciously granted Royal Patronage to the Prince Mahidol Award Foundation as well. As a representative of His Majesty the King, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the President of the Foundation, hosts an annual banquet in honour of the laureates after the ceremony.