Many of us in emergency nutrition field were shocked to hear that Dr. Peter Salama passed away last week. Peter died suddenly and unexpectedly of natural causes. He was 51 and leaves behind his wife and three children. At the time of his death, Peter, a medical epidemiologist from Australia, was working as Executive Director of World Health Organization’s (WHO) Division for Universal Health Coverage – Life Course. Peter joined WHO in 2016 as the Executive Director of the Health Emergencies program, which he led until 2019. Prior to WHO, Peter was Regional Director for the UNICEF Middle East Office.
Peter was a great soul; a brilliant epidemiologist with a strong experience in nutrition. Peter had a commitment to humanitarian work. I was fortunate to have had a number of interactions with Peter throughout my career. In every interaction, Peter was unfailingly helpful, kind and patient.
I first met Peter in 2000. Peter was working at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta in the Refugee Health Branch. I was at USAID and asked and funded CDC to send assistance to the humanitarian crisis in Gode, Ethiopia to oversee therapeutic feeding programs with UNICEF Peter volunteered along with Dr. Paul Speigel. I remember it was difficult to arrange for them to travel, and throughout the stops and starts of this mission Peter was graciously patient with me. It was this mission where Peter and Paul did the pivotal work that changed how the international community ran therapeutic feeding centers (Salama, P. et. al. JAMA, August 1, 2001—Vol 286, No. 5). It is my opinion that this work spurred the innovation of Community Managed Acute Malnutrition (CMAM)
I had several other interactions over the years, always seeking confirmation of some perplexing nutritional data issue in Darfur, or in Afghanistan, and meeting him in the field in Africa. I considered Peter as the authoritative and final word on nutrition and humanitarian data questions.
His death is a loss to all of us, especially the victims of famine, drought and humanitarian crises.