Patel Named New Chair of Global Health and Social Medicine

Leader in research, delivery of mental health care appointed to succeed Paul Farmer

A silver-haired man, wearing a black jacket and a red shirt, smiles at someone off camera.
Vikram Patel will be the next chair of the HMS Department of Global Health and Social Medicine. His term will begin Sept. 1. Image: Gretchen Ertl

Vikram Patel, the Pershing Square Professor of Global Health in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School and a well-known expert in global mental health, will be the next chair of the HMS Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, effective Sept. 1, 2023.

Patel will succeed Paul Farmer, who led the department until his death in February 2022.

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“Vikram is both a worthy successor and uniquely prepared to carry the torch,” said George Q. Daley, dean of HMS, in a letter to the community announcing Patel’s appointment.

“A venerable and a charismatic educator, Vikram was recruited to HMS in 2017 by Paul himself, and he shares Paul’s philosophy that academic engagement is key to delivering quality and equitable health care to all,” Daley said.

“I am deeply honored to serve as the chair of the department,” Patel said. “I am conscious that I follow not only in Paul’s monumental footsteps, but also in those of some of the most influential scholars in global health and social medicine. I am motivated by the potential of this role at this critical juncture in the long and storied history of a department committed to the goal of health equity in this country and globally.”

Patel’s appointment comes at a time of increasing awareness of a growing mental health crisis around the world, Daley noted, adding that Patel’s “energy, determination, and drive to find solutions will be invaluable as the HMS community responds to the crisis and acts on the goals outlined in the department’s new strategic plan.”

Daley highlighted Patel’s commitment to further integrating social sciences research, including in areas not traditionally funded by the NIH, with on-the-ground care delivery. In particular, he noted that Patel’s deep knowledge of the complexities of mental health will complement the HMS community’s strength in neuroscience and neurobiology.

“I am so delighted that Vikram will lead the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine,” said Anne Becker, dean for clinical and academic affairs and the Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine at HMS.

“Since joining the department he has been a vital source of intellectual energy and team building, which are obviously two qualities that will serve him well as leader of the department and, in turn, will serve our community of faculty and learners very well,” Becker said.

Mental health initiatives

Locally, Patel heads the interdisciplinary Global Mental Health initiative at Harvard, which reaches across the University, as well as the Mental Health for All Lab, housed within the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine.

Patel launched the EMPOWER program in 2020 as part of the Global Mental Health initiative. The aim of EMPOWER is to deploy a suite of digital tools and methods to enable frontline health workers to learn, master, and deliver evidence-based psychosocial interventions needed to effectively address mental health issues in their communities.

One example of EMPOWER’s work is an ambitious new HMS program supported by the Manton Foundation, announced in 2022. The program is building the curriculum for school-based providers to address mental health problems in adolescents.

Gray-haired South Asian man in a vest and dress shirt
Vikram Patel on the global mental health crisis. Video: Richard Groleau