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World public health leader Kevin Fenton honoured by Northumbria University

13th July 2017

Professor Kevin Fenton has received an honorary degree from Northumbria University, Newcastle, for his pivotal role in shaping public health in both the UK and across the world.

Professor Fenton, Senior Advisor, Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England and Director of Health and Wellbeing for the London Borough of Southwark, is a medical doctor, academic and public health specialist. He grew up in Jamaica and it was whilst doing his medical training at the University of West Indies that Professor Fenton first began to contemplate a career in public health. Even at this young age, he recognised the enormous potential for public health to impact positively upon many people.

Professor Fenton became Director of the HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections Department for the UK Health Protection Agency in 2002. In 2005, he moved to the USA and became the Director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB prevention serving under Presidents George Bush and Barak Obama.

Under his leadership, CDC introduced new systems and procedures in the USA that have since positively impacted upon millions of lives.

He transformed the policy regarding screening for HIV and this has reduced the incidence of undiagnosed HIV in the USA which ultimately led to a change in the World Health Organisation policy regarding HIV screening. He championed similar changes for the screening of Hepatitis C and he introduced prophylactic pharmacological treatments to reduce the transmission of HIV in people at high risk of infection.

In 2013, Professor Fenton returned to the UK to become the National Director for Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England. In this role, he was responsible for national prevention programmes including screening for cancer and chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Under Kevin’s leadership, Public Health England developed comprehensive national programmes to tackle inactivity; reduce tobacco consumption; challenge overconsumption of sugar; promote the preventability of dementia; increase the number of adults having health checks; and promote early diagnosis of chronic disease. The success of these initiatives can be seen in the latest Government announcement to prevent fast food advertising during programmes targeting children, the fall in smoking among young people and the increased awareness of mental health issues.

By scaling up a range of evidence informed programmes, he has (tried to) ensured that every child is given the best possible start in life and every adult the information and opportunity to stay healthy for longer.

Speaking of his Honorary Degree Professor Fenton said: “It is an honour to be recognised for my contributions to public health and prevention. At its core, public health is about improving the lives of others through the organised efforts of society.

At the outset these drives can sound impossible, over ambitious and daunting. But nothing in life is insurmountable. With grit, determination, a commitment to evidence-informed practice and working with partners anything is possible. In addition, core values of respect, integrity and excellence remain as relevant today as they were when I began my journey more than two decades ago. We all have role to play in improving health, promoting wellbeing and reducing inequalities in our society.

All of the gains we have made from reducing infant mortality, to reducing cancer rates, to reducing the harmful effects of smoking are a testament to the contributions of public health expertise in research, innovation, policy development, programme implementation, engaging communities, and evaluating impact.”

Northumbria University is in the top quartile in the UK for its research power in Allied Health Professions and Nursing. More than 80% of research activity in this area is rated as world leading or internationally excellent.

The University has strong partnerships with local NHS Trusts, GP practices and private and voluntary providers to enable all students to experience a wide range of placements.

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