Class of 1968
It could be argued that one of the best measures of success in this world in the fields of medicine and maths is to have a “method” named after you. Professor Alan Lopez is arguably the brightest statistician Aquinas ever produced. His area of expertise is epidemiology: the study of the causes of epidemics and the incidence and prevalence of them in large populations.
At Aquinas he enjoyed mathematics and was later inspired to look at the relationship between health and statistics. Professor Lopez has devoted his life to studying statistics to see what they tell us about disease in populations. He worked at Oxford with another founder of epidemiology, Sir Richard Peto, to establish the “Peto-Lopez method”, widely used by countries to estimate tobacco-attributable mortality so that governments can do something about it through enacting better tobacco control policies.
He formed a strong friendship and working relationship with another leading epidemiologist from Harvard University, Christopher Murray. He did this in spite of the fact that Christopher walked into his office at the World Health Organisation in Geneva one day and declared: “everything you have written about Africa is wrong!” Alan decided not to take offence and became instead his next great collaborating partner. Today the two men are co-authors and founders of the globally renowned “Global Burden of Disease Study” which has widely influenced global health priority setting and funding by agencies such as the World Health Organisation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
As a global and public health scholar and adviser to governments, Alan has over 130,000 citations to his work in health and medical research. He says “it was on the playing fields of Aquinas that I learned I could achieve whatever I wanted to if I worked at it hard enough; and the school provided me with the encouragement and support to be as good as I could be in sport and work.” He was a Prefect, Captain of the Hockey team, Captain of St Peter’s House, member of the First XI Cricket team and Inters Athletic team and a Regimental Sergeant-Major in the Cadets in his last year, 1968, when he also collected the Latin Prize.
Following his 10-year training in various universities in Australia and the United States, culminating in the award of a PhD in epidemiology and demography, he spent 22 years at the World Health Organisation in Geneva. He is regarded as one of the most internationally recognised scholars in his field. Amongst Alan’s many recent credits is a Companion of the Order of Australia for ‘eminent service to science, both nationally and internationally, as an academic, researcher and author, and for the advancement of planning and policy development to improve public health in developing countries’.
In 2014 he received the Peter Wills Medal for making an outstanding contribution to building Australia’s international reputation in the area of health and medical research. In 2018 he and his long term collaborator, Chris Murray were awarded the Canada Gairdner Global Health Award for their pioneering work to establish the Global Burden of Disease Study, the most prestigious recognition for scientists working in global health. Professor Lopez is a Laureate Professor of Global Health at the University of Melbourne, a Visiting Professor of Epidemiology at Oxford University, and Affiliate Professor of Health Metrics Sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle.