Gairdner Laureate mobilizes communities for global mental health

Posted on Thursday, October 24, 2019

A Gairdner Award plaque with the photo and signature of Dr. Vikram Patel.

Harvard University professor Dr. Vikram Patel discussed 25 years of risks, successes and shortcomings in global mental health research and treatment, in his 2019 Canada Gairdner Laureate Lecture on Oct. 22.

As a doctoral student in Harare in the 1990s, Dr. Vikram Patel was one of only ten psychiatrists in all of Zimbabwe.

“Nine of us were based in the city of Harare, which effectively left one psychiatrist for nine million people,” said Dr. Patel, winner of the 2019 John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award. “I had to re-imagine: how would I deliver mental health care in places where there were no mental health professionals? This is where my journey into global health began.”

In his well-attended Gairdner Laureate Lecture on October 22, Dr. Patel reviewed the globe-spanning career that has taken him from his native India, to Great Britain, Australia, across the African continent, and finally to his current appointment at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Global Health and Social Medicine. He discussed his two decades of on-the-ground research, showing the interconnections between poor mental health and other social and medical afflictions, including poverty, violence, and HIV infection. He also reviewed his work — often in conjunction with the Sangath charity that he co-founded — in mobilizing general practitioners, nurses, and lay people in low-income communities to successfully deliver mental health care. 

Despite the progress made over the past 25 years, Dr. Patel spoke poignantly of the ongoing problems in the mental health field, including a lack of resources and rising rates of drug addiction and suicide in many populations.

Dr. Patel serves as the Pershing Square Professor of Global Health and Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, and holds numerous international honours and awards. He received the Gairdner Award for his research into the burden and determinants of mental health problems in low- and middle-income countries, and for his pioneering approaches to the prevention and treatment of mental health in low-resource settings. The Gairdner Foundation recognizes leading medical researchers from any country in the world through the Canada Gairdner International Awards which are recognized as among the most prestigious awards in biomedical science.


Photo credits: Kate Jaimet


Broaden your understanding of global mental health with Dr. Patel’s 2019 Canada Gairdner Laureate Lecture.

Dr. Vikram Patel smiles into the camera

Dr. Vikram Patel arrives to deliver the 2019 Gairdner Laureate Lecture


Dr. Vikram Patel gives a lecture

Dr. Vikram Patel speaks passionately about the need for better mental health care around the globe


Several university students and professors stand in a large room, socializing

Students and faculty socialize following Dr. Patel’s lecture


Four dignitaries stand in front of a University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine banner

Dignitaries welcome Dr. Patel (Left to right: Dr. Antoine Hakim, Dr. Vikram Patel, Dr. John Dirks, Dr. Jocelyn Côté.)


Back to top