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David Nabarro

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David Nabarro
Nabarro in 2016
Personal details
Born (1949-08-26) 26 August 1949 (age 74)
London, England
EducationOundle School, University of Oxford (BA, MS, MBBS)
University of London (MS)

Sir David Nunes Nabarro KCMG CBE (born 26 August 1949) is a British Special Envoy on Covid-19 for the World Health Organization.[1] He has made his career in the international civil service, working for either the Secretary-General of the United Nations or the Director-General of the World Health Organization. Since February 2020, he has helped the DGWHO deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early life and education[edit]

Nabarro is the son of the late Sir John David Nunes Nabarro, whose cousin was the late Sir Gerald Nabarro, MP. He was formerly consultant endocrinologist at University College Hospital (UCH) and Middlesex Hospital, London. He attended Oundle School in Northamptonshire,[2] leaving in the summer of 1966.

In a gap year between school and university, Nabarro was a community service volunteer. He spent a year as the organiser of Youth Action, York. A BBC television documentary was made about his volunteer work.[3]

Nabarro studied at the University of Oxford and the University of London, and qualified as a physician in 1973. He is a member of the Faculty of Public Health (FPH) and the Royal College of Physicians by distinction (where he is also a Fellow).[4]


Early career[edit]

Nabarro worked as a medical officer in North Iraq for Save the Children, before joining the United Kingdom's (UK) National Health Service (NHS) for a short time. From 1976 to 1978, Nabarro worked as District Child Health Officer in Dhankuta District, Nepal. Later, he moved to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and in 1982, he became Regional Manager for the Save the Children Fund in South Asia, based in the region. In 1985 he joined the University of Liverpool Medical School as senior lecturer in International Community Health.

He moved to the Overseas Development Administration (now part of Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) as a strategic adviser for health and population in East Africa, based in Nairobi, in 1989.

Nabarro later took up the post of chief health and population adviser at the Overseas Development Administration (London office) in 1990, and moved on to become director of human development (as well as chief health adviser) in 1997.[5]

World Health Organization (1999–2005)[edit]

Nabarro joined the WHO in January 1999, as project manager of Roll Back Malaria, then moved to the Office of the Director General as executive director in March 2000. In this capacity, he worked with the director general Gro Harlem Brundtland for two years on a variety of issues, including the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, Health Systems Assessments and the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. As part of this work, he became for 1999-2001 a member of the board of directors of Medicines for Malaria Venture.[6]

Nabarro transferred to the Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments cluster in 2003 and was appointed representative of the DG for health action in crises in July 2003.[7]

Nabarro was stationed in the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq, when it was bombed on the afternoon of 19 August 2003.[8] The blast targeted the UN, which had used the hotel as its headquarters in Iraq since 1991.

He has also coordinated support for health aspects of crisis response operations in Darfur, Sudan, and in countries affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and Tsunami.[9]

UN System senior coordinator (2005–2014)[edit]

In September 2005, Nabarro was seconded from WHO and appointed senior UN system coordinator for avian and human influenza by secretary-general of the UN Kofi Annan to ensure that the UN system made an effective and coordinated contribution to the global effort to control the epidemic of avian influenza (also known as 'bird flu').[10]

Coordinator of Global Food Security (HLTF) (2008–2014)[edit]

In January 2009, Nabarro took on the responsibility of coordinating the UN system's High-Level Task Force on Global Food Security (HLTF).[11] The HLTF brought together 23 different organizations, funds, programs and other entities from within the UN family, as well as the Bretton Woods Institutions, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),[12] and tasked them with establishing a common strategy for addressing food and nutrition insecurity in a more sustainable, coordinated and comprehensive way. Nabarro left the HLTF coordinator position in 2014 and was succeeded by Giuseppe Fantozzi.[13]

Special representative of the UN Secretary-General (2009–2017)[edit]

Nabarro addresses global food security crisis at Global Commodities Forum, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

In November 2009 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Nabarro as special representative on food security and nutrition. As special representative, Nabarro's role was to:

Coordinator of nutrition movement (2010–2015)[edit]

In September 2010, Nabarro was appointed coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement.[14] SUN brings together government officials, civil society, the UN, donors, businesses and researchers in a collective effort to improve nutrition.[15]

Betimes, he became Member of the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (2016), 2013–2014.[16]

Special envoy on Ebola (2014–2015)[edit]

David Nabarro speaks at World Organization for Animal Health

In August 2014, Nabarro was designated as special envoy of the UN Secretary-General on Ebola, with the responsibility for ensuring that the UN system makes an effective and coordinated contribution to the global effort to control the outbreak of Ebola.[17] The epidemic is believed to have begun in December 2013 with the death of a 2-year-old boy in a remote area of Guinea, but was not recognized until March 2014.[18] For several months the epidemic was spreading. This is something that public health experts in the affected locations, such as Medecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), claimed was due to a deeply flawed and delayed response by health and government officials.[19]

In an interview later in 2015, once Ebola had largely been brought under control, Nabarro said that when he started working on Ebola in 2014, he "was aware that we were in the middle of a disease outbreak of enormous proportions. The number of people getting sick was doubling every week. Facilities were completely overloaded. Communities were in a state of despair." He added that the international community had learned important lessons from the epidemic: "The world is going to be different as a result of this Ebola outbreak, much more confident, much more assured, and much, much more capable to ensure the well-being of its citizens."[20]

Chair of the Advisory Group on Reform at WHO (2015–2016)[edit]

Nabarro was responsible for leading a high-level advisory group to guide reform of WHO's response to outbreaks and emergencies, prepare reports based on the group's recommendations and advise on the manner of their implementation.[21]

Head of UN's response to cholera in Haiti (2016–2017)[edit]

In 2016 Nabarro was tapped to lead the UN's response to Haiti's cholera epidemic. Cholera had killed more than 10,000 Haitians in the six years since the disease was introduced by UN peacekeepers in 2010.[22] After UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon issued a long overdue apology for the UN's "role" in the epidemic, Nabarro oversaw efforts to raise $400 million from UN member states to fund the Secretary General's proposed "New Approach" to cholera in Haiti.[23] Nabarro was the second UN appointee to work on the cholera crisis in Haiti. Pedro Modrano Rojas previously served as a senior coordinator for the cholera effort, but left at the end of an 18-month term, stating that he was disappointed by the international community's "failure to acknowledge the fact that we have in Haiti the largest epidemic in the western hemisphere."[24] Nabarro's efforts were no more successful—as a result of a lack of support from the UN Secretary General and from member states, Nabarro was only able to raise $2.7 million of the promised $400 million before being replaced by Josette Sheeran—though Sheeran would face the same obstacles as Nabarro.[25]

Special adviser on Sustainable Development and Climate Change (2016–2017)[edit]

In January 2016, Nabarro was appointed special adviser on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

One of Nabarro's responsibilities in this role were to lead the UN's response to the cholera epidemic its peacekeepers sparked in Haiti in October 2010 when untreated, infected sewage from a UN base was deposited in the country's main river system. As of August 2016, at least 10,000 people had died and more than 800,000 have been sickened in the epidemic.[26]

Candidate for WHO Director-General (2016–2017)[edit]

In September 2016, Nabarro was nominated by the UK's First May ministry to stand for the post of director-general (DG) of the World Health Organization (WHO).[27] An article co-authored by the UK's chief medical officer, Sally Davies, was published in The Lancet. It outlined the criteria that the next DG of the WHO must fulfill.

Nabarro was one of six candidates put forward by their individual governments to succeed DGWHO Margaret Chan.[28] Nabarro outlined his four priorities as follows:[29]

  1. Alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals
  2. Transforming the WHO to respond to outbreaks and health emergencies
  3. Trusted engagement with Member States
  4. Advancing people-centred health policies.

On Tuesday 23 May, at the 70th World Health Assembly, Nabarro came second in the race to become the next director general, receiving 50 votes to Dr Tedros Adhanom's 133 in the third and final round of voting.[30]

4SD Foundation (2018 - present)[edit]

In 2018 David Nabarro and Florence Lasbennes established the 4SD Foundation in Geneva. The Foundation is focused on skills, systems, and synergies for sustainable development, and accompanies leaders as they navigate their way through complex sustainability challenges.[31]

Imperial College London Professor (2018–present)[edit]

In 2018 he was appointed Professor at the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London and then appointed in 2019 as Co-Director with surgeon Ara Darzi, Baron Darzi of Denham.

COVID-19 pandemic (2020 - present)[edit]

On 21 February 2020, he was appointed as one of six Special Envoys from the DGWHO, who were tasked to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.[32] In October 2020, Nabarro gave an interview with The Spectator on YouTube in which he highlighted the WHO's updated position on lockdowns in regards to national responses to COVID. As a Special Envoy on COVID-19 for the World Health Organization, Nabarro said: "We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus ... the only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we'd rather not do it."[33]

He argued that lockdowns should be used as "circuit breakers" and as a reserve measure to control the virus rather than a primary measure. In an interview with BBC Radio 4, he cautioned against a full national lockdown, describing it as "a very extreme restriction on economic and social life" that temporarily "freezes the virus in place". He said: "You don't want to use those as your primary, and I stress that, primary, means of containment. Because in the end living with the virus as a constant threat means maintaining the capacity to find people with the disease and isolating them."

His comments were taken by some as meaning that the WHO did not support lockdowns. Rather, he emphasises that they do not support lockdowns as a primary measure for tackling the virus, and instead believe that having a robust test, trace and isolate system should be the priority for all governments, ensuring all those who are positive or who have been close to those infected are quarantined, with lockdown as "the reserve that you use to take the heat out of the system when things are really bad".[34][35][36][37]

Honours, recognition and awards[edit]

  • World Food Prize 2018 (dubbed Nobel Prize for Agriculture): Awarded together with Lawrence Haddad for their individual and complementary global leadership in elevating maternal and child undernutrition to a central issue within the food security and development dialogue at national and international levels.[38] They have been cutting the number of stunted children in the world by 10 million by lobbying governments and donors to improve nutrition.[39]
  • Helen Keller Humanitarian Award: Awarded for work on positioning malnutrition within the development dialogue and for ensuring an effective response to Ebola, 2015
  • Sight and Life Nutrition Leadership Award (together with the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement): For work in catalysing sustainable change in global nutrition, 2012
  • Distinguished Service Award from Health Policy Institute, Kansas University of Medicine & Biosciences: For outstanding Health Policy Leadership, 2008

Nabarro was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1992 for services to international public health and Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in the 2023 New Year Honours for services to global health.[40]


  1. ^ Lee, Bruce Y. "WHO Warning About Covid-19 Coronavirus Lockdowns Is Taken Out Of Context". Forbes. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  2. ^ "Sixth Form Lecture Series". Oundle School. Retrieved 7 February 2021. Some notable speakers who have recently visited include ... diplomat Dr David Nabarro (OO)
  3. ^ "The Younger Generation - BBC One London - 12 November 1967 - BBC Genome". genome.ch.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  4. ^ "David Nabarro - David Nabarro's Education". davidnabarro.info. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  5. ^ "David Nabarro – David Nabarro's Career History". davidnabarro.info. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  6. ^ Medicines for Malaria Venture 10th Anniversary Book. www.mmv.org.
  7. ^ "David Nabarro - David Nabarro's Career History". davidnabarro.info. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  8. ^ "WHO | Senior WHO official, Dr David Nabarro, describes his experience in the UN bombing". www.who.int. Archived from the original on 25 August 2004. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  9. ^ "David Nabarro". World Health Organization. Archived from the original on 18 September 2015. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  10. ^ "WHO | WHO expert to work with the UN system on avian and human influenza". www.who.int. Archived from the original on 11 October 2005. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  11. ^ "High Level Task Force on Global Food and Nutrition Security (HLTF)". www.un.org. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  12. ^ "High Level Task Force on Global Food and Nutrition Security (HLTF)". www.un.org. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  13. ^ "High Level Task Force on Global Food and Nutrition Security (HLTF)". www.un.org. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  14. ^ "SUN Movement Coordinator". scalingupnutrition.org. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  15. ^ "The vision and principles of SUN". scalingupnutrition.org. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  16. ^ "WHO | Biographies of the Commissioners". www.who.int. Archived from the original on 19 October 2014. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  17. ^ "Special Envoy on Ebola". Global Ebola Response. 27 November 2014. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  18. ^ "WHO | Origins of the 2014 Ebola epidemic". who.int. Archived from the original on 20 January 2015. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  19. ^ Regan, Helen. "Slow Response to Ebola Outbreak 'Cost Thousands of Lives'". Time. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  20. ^ "Ebola Then and Now - David Nabarro". World Health Organization. Archived from the original on 12 November 2015. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  21. ^ "David Nabarro - David Nabarro's Career History". davidnabarro.info. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  22. ^ Sengupta, Somini (1 December 2016). "U.N. Apologizes for Role in Haiti's 2010 Cholera Outbreak". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  23. ^ Sengupta, Somini (1 December 2016). "U.N. Apologizes for Role in Haiti's 2010 Cholera Outbreak". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  24. ^ "British doctor who tackled Ebola now leads fight against cholera in Haiti". miamiherald. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  25. ^ "With little money to combat cholera in Haiti, U.N. names new fundraising chief". miamiherald. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  26. ^ "UN admits role in Haiti's deadly cholera outbreak". BBC News. 19 August 2016. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  27. ^ "The UK backs Dr David Nabarro in his bid to lead the World Health Organisation | Department of Health Media Centre". Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  28. ^ "Election process for the new WHO Director-General". World Health Organization. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  29. ^ "David Nabarro - 4 Priorities". davidnabarro.info. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  30. ^ "The Latest: Ethiopian candidate leads vote for new WHO chief - Northern Michigan's News Leader". Archived from the original on 23 May 2017. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
  31. ^ "About us | 4SD". Retrieved 3 May 2023.
  32. ^ "WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 on 21 February 2020". www.who.int. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  33. ^ Salo, Jackie (11 October 2020). "WHO warns against COVID-19 lockdowns due to economic damage". New York Post. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  34. ^ editor, Helen Pidd North of England (29 October 2020). "National lockdowns should be backup plan on Covid, says WHO envoy". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 11 January 2021. {{cite news}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  35. ^ "The Week in 60 Minutes #6 - with Andrew Neil and WHO Covid-19 envoy David Nabarro | SpectatorTV". YouTube. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  36. ^ Lee, Bruce Y. "WHO Warning About Covid-19 Coronavirus Lockdowns Is Taken Out Of Context". Forbes. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  37. ^ editor, Sarah Boseley Health (2 November 2020). "Covid lockdowns are cost of self-isolation failures, says WHO expert". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 11 January 2021. {{cite news}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  38. ^ "2018 Haddad and Nabarro". www.worldfoodprize.org. The World Food Prize Foundation. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  39. ^ "From obese to starving, nutrition crisis prompts SOS call for new..." Reuters. 28 December 2018. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  40. ^ "No. 63918". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2022. p. N3.

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