Story behind UK’s New chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, a coronavirus expert raised in Nigeria


A plague expert raised in Nigeria is leading Britain’s fight against coronavirus. Prof. Chris Whitty, the calm scientist was scared as teenager when his father was shot dead.

One’s only been in the job for five months, but now he has been thrust into the limelight as he leads Britain’s fight against the killer coronavirus.

Professor Chris Whitty, who was born in a quiet Surrey village but spent most of his childhood in Nigeria, was little known outside of medical circles before his appointment as England’s top doctor.

But as fears of a coronavirus crisis have grown, his calm, considered updates have impressed. Some people have even called for the 53-year-old chief medical officer to take over the Prime Minister’s outbreak updates.

Britons have praised the Oxford University graduate for his no-nonsense approach, with him admitting on live TV yesterday there would be a ‘lot more’ cases in the UK.

In front of MPs of all stripes today, Professor Whitty – who has spent decades researching Ebola, AIDS and even the plague – reassured a parliament committee that older people are not necessarily a ‘goner’ if they get infected.

And on Tuesday he was hailed for telling Brits to ‘think’ about whether it was wise for them to travel abroad to countries with health services weaker than the NHS.

Earlier that day, Professor Whitty flanked Boris Johnson as the PM announced the Government’s drastic ‘battle plan’, which could see troops deployed on streets if the outbreak takes hold in the UK.

Whereas Dame Sally was branded the ‘nanny-in-chief’ for her call to ban eating on public transport, Professor Whitty has been hailed by colleagues across the board for being ‘calm’ and ‘collected’.

Professor Whitty, the youngest of four boys, spent much of his childhood in northern Nigeria after being born in Limpsfield, 11miles (18km) south of Croydon.

As a teenager in 1984, he tragically lost his father – who worked for the British Council – when he was shot three times in the head while driving in Athens.

The New York Times reported at the time that his 44-year-old father, Kenneth, was flagged down by a gunman at an intersection who asked him to roll down his window.

After studying at Pembroke College, Oxford, Professor Whitty worked as a doctor across Africa and Asia, where he treated malaria patients and published a vast array of academic papers at the same time.

The hard-working medic also somehow found time to study for an Open University diploma in Economics and gained an MBA from Heriott-Watt University.

Eyebrows were raised by the security service when he first joined the government, as the chief scientific adviser for the Department for International Development in 2009.

Intelligence chiefs allegedly questioned why he wasn’t married. But his phenomenal work output, would certainly have left little room for a family life.

As a researcher, Professor Whitty was awarded $40million (£31mn) by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for malaria research,

And during his time treating AIDS victims in Malawi, he began to gain a reputation for saying what he regards are uncomfortable truths.

In an academic article written in 1999, he said public health is ‘not a branch of morality’ and that ‘taking a stern moral line can sometimes be highly effective’.

He wrote medics should ‘differentiate sharply’ between stigmatising a pattern of behaviour – which ‘can often be justified’ – and stigmatising a person with a medical problem.

And Professor Whitty added that any doctor who argues that ‘stigma’ should never be used to try to ‘back up a public health message’ is being ‘profoundly naïve’.

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, Number 10 has been accused of lacking transparency by refusing to give clear, concise updates.

And the Department of Health and Social Care was criticised said they would ‘no longer be tweeting information on the location of each new case.’

In contrast, Professor Whitty’s straight-talking approach has been praised by ordinary Britons, who took the chance to lay into Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Government.

One man said on Twitter: ‘This Chris Whitty fella is good. Clear, authoritative, focused, objective. Puts the government into stark contrast.’

Another wrote: ‘Cancel the PM. Just show Chris Whitty. We need level heads, not blonde idiots.’

On Wednesday, the chief medical officer said on live TV that there would be ‘a lot more’ coronavirus in the UK and that deaths should expected.

He went on to tell Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid on Good Morning Britain that the country will likely end up in the grip of a ‘significant epidemic’.

And he warned Britons that there is no point in them wearing masks because they won’t have a ‘significant effect’ in guarding against the virus, he said.

And today Professor Whitty hinted that there might not be enough space in mortuaries to cope with deaths and also warned that Britain has moved to a ‘delay’ phase in tackling the virus.

Professor Whitty’s colleagues were also quick to praise their fellow medic, describing him as ‘patient’, ‘courteous’, ‘confident’ and ‘clever’.

Professor Robin Grimes, the former chief scientist at the Foreign Office, was mentored by Professor Whitty when he joined the civil service.

He told MailOnline: ‘At that time Chris was chief scientist in DfID. He was an immensely helpful and patient teacher.

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‘His calm and thoughtful approach to explaining what the evidence says and does not say are coming through as strongly in the current circumstances are they always have.’

Professor Simon Wessely, chair of psychological medicine at Kings College London, added that Whitty was ‘made for the post’ of chief medical advisor.

He added that he is ‘calm, collected, courteous, confident and clever.’

Before being appointed as England’s most senior medical advisor to the Government, Professor Whitty was the chief scientific adviser at the Department of Health and Social Care.

And between 2009 and 2015, he held the same job at the Department for International Development.

Before this, he lectured at the University of Malawi and returned to the UK to teach and take up a role as a consultant physician at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2005.

Culled from DailyMail

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