Title: Adjunct Professor, National Academy of Sciences member
Curriculum vitae: PDF
Research Interests: Impact of migration and urbanization on malaria transmission; co-infection
Hobbies: Tennis, music
Burton H. Singer joined the EPI in 2009 as a courtesy professor, after serving as chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale University and, most recently, retiring from Princeton University where he had been the Charles & Marie Robertson Professor of Public and International Affairs.
Dr. Singer also had affiliated faculty appointments at Princeton in Applied & Computational Mathematics, Environmental Studies, African Studies and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He describes his experience at Princeton as one in which he “had the happy experience of not feeling restricted by any disciplinary boundaries.”
This mantra, not being tied to any one discipline, is one that epitomized Dr. Singer’s varied career and almost accidental voyage into malaria research. Though his Ph.D. thesis had focused on mathematical models with roots in population genetics, Dr. Singer had not ventured into the mathematical analysis of infectious diseases until his career as a professor began at Columbia University in 1967. In addition, he also taught an introductory sociology statistics course that served as a gateway to extensive research in the social sciences.
During four decades of health and disease-related study, Dr. Singer’s research has centered in three principal areas: identification of social, biological, and environmental risks associated with vector-borne diseases in the tropics; integration of psychosocial and biological evidence to characterize pathways to alternative states of health; and health impact assessments associated with economic development projects.
Dr. Singer’s multi-decade examination of malaria outbreaks in the Brazilian Amazon, within areas of substantial ecosystem transformation brought about by migration and new settlements, indicated how new sites were created that were ripe for the breeding of Anopheles darlingi mosquitoes. This work, carried out in collaboration with Brazilian colleagues and former Ph.D. students, led to the specification of policies for the Amazon region in which implementation resulted in substantially reduced malaria rates over time. Related investigations focused on urban malaria in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and on the evaluation of integrated malaria control programs in the former Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and the Federated Malay States (now Malaysia) during the colonial period.
In a somewhat different direction, a major segment of Dr. Singer’s research examined the biological correlates of well-being and the health consequences of gene-environment interactions with particular emphasis on the social environment. He is currently engaged in studies of health impacts over time of large-scale development projects in the tropics, with particular emphasis on forcibly resettled communities. His work to-date has focused on the Chad-Cameroon petroleum development and pipeline project and the Nam Theun 2 Hydroelectric project in Laos.
“It’s not high tech,” Dr. Singer said of his work to improve public infrastructure to facilitate prevention of parasitic diseases in tropical regions of the world. Improvement to water and sanitation systems (including effective drainage) can do considerably more than drug delivery to prevent the spread of diseases such as schistosomiasis, a host of geohelminths, malaria, and lymphatic filariasis.
Dr. Singer’s corporate and governmental work is extensive, and he has been a statistical consultant for RAND, IBM, Motorola, Union Carbide, SRI International, the National Opinion Research Center, and the Social Security Administration.
Dr. Singer was chair of the Steering Committee for Social and Economic Research for the World Health Organization Tropical Disease Research (TDR) program. He also served as chair of the National Research Council Committee on National Statistics.
He was a Guggenheim fellow (1981-1982) and elected to the National Academy of Sciences (1994) and to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (2005).
Dr. Singer and his wife split their time between Gainesville, Fla., and their retirement home on St. Simons Island, Ga. He enjoys tennis, music, and flying with his wife who is a private pilot. The Singers have three adult children.
Emerging Pathogens Institute
University of Florida
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Gainesville, Florida 32610-0009
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