Remembering Alan Magill, a leader and friend in the fight to end malaria

September 23, 2015 by Dr. Kent Campbell

Dr. Alan Magill speaking at a malaria event.

The late Dr. Alan Magill, director of the Malaria Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Photo: PATH/Todd Jennings.

The passing of Gates Foundation's visionary Malaria Program leader is felt acutely at PATH and across the globe.

The PATH community was deeply saddened to learn this past weekend of the passing of our close colleague and dear friend, Dr. Alan Magill, director of the Malaria Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Praise for Alan and condolences for his family have come from all corners of the world, underscoring the incredible impact he made during his life and the inspiring legacy he created.

I first got to know Alan when we were early in our careers: Alan with the US Army Medical Corps, I with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In every interaction, I always came away with a clear sense that Alan was exceptionally thoughtful and considerate in his approach to issues and working with colleagues. He was unassuming and unassertive, yet a person whose opinion and perspective you wanted and needed.

He came to malaria and global health as a well-trained and insightful clinician. He had a subtle and experience-based physician’s perspective. This gave him an extraordinarily valuable foundational approach that focused on what malaria meant to each individual infected with the disease.

In many ways, Alan’s early career was the perfect preparation for his role at the Gates Foundation; he was ideally suited to lead their audacious malaria eradication effort, though neither he nor others specifically knew it. He cannot be replaced, though his job will be filled by others. I personally feel the loss of his leadership and have spent a lot of time these last few days reflecting on the progress he inspired and would have continued to inspire.

Our world has lost a great leader and a truly wonderful person, a sentiment shared by my colleagues at PATH and exemplified in their remembrances of Alan below. At PATH, we will carry on in the fight to eliminate malaria, keeping the legacy of Alan Magill at the forefront as we strive to realize his dream and rid the world of suffering from malaria.

Tributes from other PATH leaders

“ The world has been blessed with Alan’s many contributions, including his outstanding leadership in the fight against malaria. It is now our responsibility to move his legacy forward, to intensify our innovation and efforts in the battle to control and eliminate malaria. ”
— Steve Davis, president and CEO
“ Alan’s presence will be profoundly missed by his colleagues here at PATH: we will miss his pragmatic and simplifying approaches to biological problem solving, his penchant for allegories and historical anecdotes and aphorisms to capture and drive home a key concept, and his vision, leadership, and companionship as we continue the journey toward a world free of malaria. Personally, I will long miss the honor and privilege of working with such an extraordinary physician-scientist and friend. ”
— Dr. David Kaslow, vice president, Product Development
“ Alan had a soft spot for Zambia. When he visited us during World Malaria Day this year, we had a wonderful experience visiting different communities around the country. His thoughtful and humble approach made him loved by many here. He has been a part of the malaria journey in Zambia for many years, and we will miss him. ”
— Dr. Nanthalile Mugala, program leader, Zambia
“ Alan’s vision for new diagnostics was the foundation of the Infection Detection Test (IDT) Development Initiative. He challenged the initiative partners to build more sensitive IDTs so that country programs could see the extent of the infectious reservoir and apply their elimination resources appropriately. That vision will continue in his remembrance. It was a privilege working with Alan. We will miss his unrelenting strength and drive that inspired us all. ”
— Paul LaBarre, senior technical officer, Diagnostics
“ In Alan Magill, PATH’s Malaria Vaccine Initiative had a great partner and friend. He led the development of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Accelerate to Zero” malaria eradication framework, of which we are proud to be a partner, and which I expect will serve as a road map for many years to come. He was relentless in persuading others of his vision and driving forward the partnerships needed to most effectively implement the eradication strategy. We will miss the intellectual challenge of working with him, as well as his kindness of spirit. ”
— Dr. Ashley Birkett, director, Malaria Vaccine Initiative
“ Alan provided that wonderful mix of passion for the daunting cause of malaria eradication, unwavering support for our work, consistent challenging of our teams to do better, and attention to us as individuals with offers of help wherever he could. Alan’s engagement was vividly demonstrated when he brought his team to Zambia. He wanted to understand personally the national passion and commitment for malaria elimination in Zambia. He wanted to visit places with the worst malaria burden, to understand how such challenging localities could be engaged. Most importantly, he wanted to meet the people who work to prevent and treat malaria every day in distant villages because malaria elimination relies on them. ”
— Rick Steketee, director, Malaria Control and Elimination Partnership in Africa
“ A teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend, Alan was passionate about infectious diseases, especially tropical diseases that disproportionately infect the poorest of the poor. Failure was never an option and he knew how to get what he needed in order to get the job done, whether it was in service to the nation as a US Army Officer or at the Gates Foundation, working to rid the world of malaria. Beyond his professional commitment and expertise, Alan was a great physician who treated his patients with compassion and his colleagues with esteem and collegiality. ”
— Dr. Chris Ockenhouse, director, Medical and Clinical Operations, Malaria Vaccine Initiative
“ In Alan, we found an unyielding drive for rigor, quality, and evidence, and a powerful source of inspiration and motivation. His influence led to the delivery of new tools that enable access to treatment for those who need it most and inform the disease elimination agenda. Alan will be sorely missed both personally and professionally. ”
— Dr. Gonzalo Domingo, research scientist, Diagnostics
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Alan Magill speaking at a World Malaria Day event.

The late Dr. Alan Magill speaking at a World Malaria Day event. Photo: PATH.

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