Maria Van Kerkhove is an infectious disease epidemiologist who is associated with the World Health Organization (WHO) as Scientist, Technical Lead MERS-CoV. She has expertise in outbreaks of emerging and re-emerging pathogens. Dr. Van Kerkhove appeared regularly in press conferences by the WHO to brief the reporters regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. She is an American who lives in Geneva Switzerland.
Maria Van Kerkhove (formerly DeJoseph) was born on Sunday, February 20, 1977 (age 44 years; as of 2021), in the United States. She grew up in New Hartford, New York. The Hill While growing up, she became inspired by Richard Preston’s books, which chronicled the tales of virus hunters and epidemiologists. She attended New Hartford High School in New York where her AP Biology teacher encouraged her to pursue science as a career, and thereon, Dr. Van Kerkhove was set on a path to Cornell, Stanford, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. During an interview, she talked about her interest in studying viruses, she said,
I loved the idea of studying viruses and pathogens and how they evolve with people. I love the sort of detective work around that.”
After receiving a BS degree from Cornell University in 1999, she attended Stanford University School of Medicine where she received an MS Degree in epidemiology in 2000. Thereafter, she went to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine where she pursued a PhD in infectious disease epidemiology in 2009. Institut Pasteur she wrote her thesis on the avian flu in Cambodia.
Height (approx.): 5′ 4″
Hair Color: Medium Ash Blonde
Eye Color: Hazel Brown
Family & Ethnicity
Maria Van Kerkhove comes from a white American family.
Parents & Siblings
Maria Van Kerkhove’s father’s name is Peter Joseph, and her mother’s name is Mary. Her parents are the natives of Cedar Lake, a town in Hanover and Center townships, Lake County, Indiana, United States. Dr. Van Kerkhove has a twin sister, Alisa. eannacefuneralhome.com
Relationships, Husband & Children
The couple has two sons, and the name of their oldest son is Cole.
Maria Van Kerkhove spent her college summers in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Venezuela; studying and analyzing the way indigenous people use plants for medicinal purposes. While working at a consulting firm in New York, she learned how to synthesize as much information as possible in evaluating risks; she worked there for five years. The Hill While writing her Ph.D. thesis on the avian flu, she studied H5N1 influenza in Cambodia where she surveyed live animal markets and mapped how a virus might spread through a community. In April 2009, Dr. Van Kerkhove joined the WHO’s flu team; after the global outbreak of H1N1. While working at the WHO, she got an opportunity to work with academic modelers and analytics experts and public health experts.
During her stint as a research fellow at Imperial College London (from March 2009 to January 2015), she did extensive field research in Medical Research Council Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling. In January 2015, Dr. Van Kerkhove became the Head of the Outbreak Investigation Task Force at the Center for Global Health at Institut Pasteur where she embarked on various field research on respiratory viruses and emerging/re-emerging viruses, such as Ebola and Marburg. While working with the Institut Pasteur, she also set up rapid response and investigation teams to detect new outbreaks around the world.
After moving permanently to the WHO in 2017, Dr. Van Kerkhove went on to work in various capacities, and since 2017, she has been holding the post of Technical Lead (MERS-CoV) in the WHO’s Health Emergency Program, in the High Threat Pathogens Unit.
In an interview, Dr. Van Kerkhove talked about her career dealing with high-threat pathogens, she said,
The theme of my life has been around viruses and emerging pathogens and how do we study their emergence from animals to humans, and how do we stop it.”
The Face of WHO
Since Dr. Van Kerkhove permanently joined the WHO in 2017, she has been working in close quarters with public health experts and epidemiologists; growing up her portfolio to a challenging roster of zoonotic diseases that can jump from animals to humans; mostly caused by high-threat pathogens, like SARS, Zika, chikungunya, bubonic plague, and smallpox. Maria Van Kerkhove attained a celebrity status during the COVID-19 pandemic when she appeared regularly in press conferences by the WHO to brief the reporters regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although she was a little nervous when she appeared for the first time before a room full of reporters on January 14, 2020, within a few months, she became a savvy veteran.
During her press conferences, she translates the dense scientific jargon and other developments related to the COVID-19 pandemic into lay terms. In an exclusive interview to The Hill, Dr. Van Kerkhove explained her press conference experience at the WHO, she said,
The responsibility that we have with these press conferences is to inform the public, and I want to do that in a measured, responsible way. Speaking to scientists, you can use certain language. But speaking in a press conference, I’m speaking to my grandmother, who passed away. She’s no longer there, but she would be so proud.”
- Film: Outbreak (1995)
- Singer: Courtney Freed
- Music Band: The Ruse
- TV Show: So You Think You Can Dance (2005)
- Writer: Richard Preston
- Athlete: Nary Ly
- She extended her name to Maria Rosanne DeJoseph Van Kerkhove; after marriage.
- She loves photography during her leisure time.
- Dr. Van Kerkhove has published many research papers and publications in various journals across the globe.
- Her particular areas of research interest include zoonotic, respiratory, and emerging/re-emerging viruses, such as avian influenza, MERS-CoV, Ebola, Marburg, and Zika.
- Dr. Van Kerkhove has extensively studied the epidemiology of zoonotic pathogens; investigating factors associated with transmission between animals and humans.
- Alongside the ethnobotanist, Eloy Rodriguez, she studied and analyzed the way indigenous people use plants for medicinal purposes in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Venezuela; during her college summers.
- Since January 2015, Dr. Van Kerkhove has been holding the position of an honorary lecturer at Imperial College London.
- Dr. Van Kerkhove is also a key member of CONSISE (the Consortium for the Standardization of Influenza Seroepidemiology), a global partnership that aims to develop influenza investigation protocols and standardize seroepidemiology to inform health policy.
- Before permanently joining the WHO in 2017, she had worked with the organization in 2013 too; as a technical consultant and a member of the MERS-CoV task force.
- To figure out China’s strategy dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and to better understand its outbreak, Dr. Van Kerkhove spent two weeks in China.
- On the heavy criticism of the WHO by conservatives in Washington; especially, the US President Donald Trump, Dr. Van Kerkhove said,
I try to stay out of the politics because I’m the technical person, but it’s disappointing to see, it’s disappointing to hear.”