Professor Rifat Atun (1985 Commonwealth Scholar from Cyprus, MB BS Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences) works in health system formulation and implementation, contributing to health care in developing countries.
Currently, Rifat is Professor of International Health Management and Head of the Health Management Group at Imperial College London. He heads a multidisciplinary group of academics whose research focuses on innovation in health systems both in the context of the UK and internationally. Rifat acknowledges that his Commonwealth Scholarship at the University of London has been ‘critically important’ to his career in medical research and management, providing the foundation for his later postgraduate studies.
Rifat’s post at Imperial gives him the opportunity to collaborate internationally to improve health care for those most in need. ‘Our research explores innovations in medical technologies, health system design, innovative financing, new health service delivery models, and health system performance. The research, which spans more than 20 countries in four continents, includes collaborations with leading universities and institutions.’
Between 2008 and 2012, Rifat was given extended leave by Imperial College to join the Executive Management Team of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Geneva. ‘At the Global Fund, I led the Strategy, Performance and Evaluation Cluster. The experience at the Global Fund was most rewarding.’ With a portfolio of more than US$22 billion in 150 countries, the Global Fund rapidly established itself as the largest international funder of health programmes globally with the objective of addressing the HIV, tuberculosis and malaria epidemics.
Rifat found the role at the Global Fund particularly stimulating, as the fund invested substantially in low income countries to strengthen fragile health systems, and involved evaluating and demonstrating the benefits of Global Fund investments. ‘A most exciting aspect was in chairing the Phase 2 Panel, which assessed the performance of Global Fund supported grants and made recommendations for continued funding for additional periods of three years or more.’
Each year, the panel made decisions on funding of between US$ 2 to 3 billion, enabling more than 3.5 million persons with AIDS to receive antiretroviral treatment. Decisions were also made to fund the distribution of over 100 million insecticide nets and ensured that treatment was provided to more than 2 million patients with tuberculosis – all within the space of few years.
Rifat’s work on policy development has been undertaken both with educational and governmental organisations, enabling outcomes to be utilised to improve health opportunities for those in most need of healthcare provision. A recent research collaborator with Oxford University showed inefficient allocation of malaria funding globally, especially to countries which have the populations at stable risk of malaria.
Research with colleagues at Harvard demonstrated substantial health and economic benefits of investing in antiretroviral treatment for people affected by AIDS, including in low and middle-income countries of Africa, which are facing particular challenges in dealing with the AIDS epidemic.
Future projects involve Rifat working to help specific regions, or countries, such as Brazil, whilst continuing with wider international collaboration, enabling him to provide input into addressing future healthcare challenges facing those most in need. ‘I have the great opportunity to collaborate with the Brazilian Ministry of Health to develop an innovation laboratory for governance and health service delivery, and am working with a number of countries to evaluate their health systems reforms, and to identify suitable policies to address future challenges.’