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[LONDON] The UK Department for International Development (DFID) has appointed an international malaria expert as its head of research. He will oversee the expenditure of £1 billion (around US$1.5 billion) over the next five years.

SciDev.Net has learned that Christopher Whitty, professor of international health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) is to take up the position, which is effectively a new post.

Whitty's main task will be implementing DFID's 2008–2013 research strategy (see UK boosts application and communication of research), which aims to ensure that research has a greater impact on poverty reduction.

The strategy will see around US$1.5 billion of spending over the next five years, with the annual research budget reaching around US$325 million by 2010–2011.

Whitty gained his medical degree at Oxford University, and has practised as a doctor in Africa, Asia and the United Kingdom. He has completed postgraduate training in epidemiology, economics and law, and is the director of the LSHTM Malaria Centre.

He has a wide range of research experience in infectious and cardiovascular diseases, including epidemiological studies, clinical trials and economic and social research.

"It's very exciting, it's a great opportunity," Whitty told SciDev.Net. "DFID is increasingly prioritising research both in terms of commissioning its own research and getting existing research, from whatever source, into policy. That is an expanding area for DFID so [my appointment] is taking account of that."

He added that it is too early to say what his priorities will be, but he won't be emphasising malaria — or his other speciality health issues — over other areas.

"My background is in health generally and I've interacted with a lot of other areas, including climate change and agriculture and so on. I would anticipate that only a minority of what I'll be doing will be health-related."

Whitty will join DFID in early March, and will continue to work with LSHTM for one day a week following his appointment.