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30 Top Public Health Influencers for 2020
By Staff Writer

Social media has been one of the most dangerous channels for misinformation and conspiracy theories in health. Fortunately, it’s also been an important new way for public health leadership to shine. Since the turn of the millennium, leaders in public health have emerged from behind the scenes to become recognized leaders of the community and global health initiatives. Concurrently, public health leaders have worked with managers of the healthcare delivery system to embrace “population health” as the basis for protecting individual patients. Today, though, leadership in public health doesn’t just mean good management skills – it means having influence and establishing a trusted voice.

Leaders in public health must recognize the connection between behavior and health. The pace of technological advances in biomedical technologies has slowed, and despite the information technology revolution, leadership in public health has failed to react with fluidity. This can be seen in conflicting reports about the Covid-19 pandemic from White House leadership and public health leaders such as Anthony Falci, who demonstrated the importance of leadership in public health that truly puts the well-being of citizens above politics and personal interests.

Ranking the Top Public Health Influencers

For MPHOnline’s ranking of the top public health influencers, we looked to organizations and figures who have made their voices heard in social media, spreading science, policy advice, and encouragement through sources like Facebook and Twitter. Our ranking is based on number of Twitter followers. These are the handles that the most people trust in the US and around the world for knowledge and guidance.

1. World Health Organization (WHO) – @WHO

The World Health Organization is one of the primary public health influencers from around the world. The WHO is a health agency, responsible for international public health, under the United Nations. The organization is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, with 150 field offices in other key locations around the world.

The WHO is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter, with regular updates that are of the most critical interest to millions of people around the world. Their mission is to provide leadership and direction in answer to global issues, including epidemics. They create and disseminate world health policies and procedures for member countries.

Followers: 5,900,000

2. Harvard Health – @HarvardHealth

Harvard Health is a top public health influencer both in the US and around the world. Its goal is to deliver the most current health information. Drawing from 10,000+ faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School, they offer trustworthy health information.

Harvard Health is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter. Harvard Health has consistently been a recognized voice in the world of health and medicine, with the staff and expertise to respond to critical issues of interest to its international audience. It is a source that’s frequently cited for its credibility and science-based veracity.

Followers: 2,400,000

3. Dr. Sanjay Gupta – @drsanjaygupta

Dr. Sanjay Gupta is one of the most prominent public health influencers. He’s a staff neurosurgeon at Emory Clinic, but his main claim-to-fame is his role as a CNN Chief Medical Correspondent. In his role as medical correspondent, he frequently makes appearances and speaks about health-related issues. Beyond being a medical reporter, he is a writer and actor.

Dr. Gupta is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter, but his influential presence is felt far beyond social media spheres. He was a co-creator of TEDMED, he publishes a column for TIME, and he has authored bestselling books (some of which were adapted for TV, in miniseries format). Dr. Gupta is a name that’s synonymous with accessible, friendly, and reliable medical reporting, which is particularly essential in an age of coronavirus and COVID-19 news.

Followers: 2,300,000

4. BBC Health News – @bbchealth

The BBC Health News is a global public health influencer. It delivers medical and health news from the UK and around the world. The BBC is rated as one of the UK’s top news sources by more than 53% of the people surveyed.

That level of credibility is also important because their international audience has come to rely the trustworthiness of the health and wellness news from this prominent news source. BBC Health News is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter, with focus on well-being and lifestyle. It offers a range of healthcare education and recourse distribution.

Followers: 2,200,000

5. Gates Foundation – @gatesfoundation

The Gates Foundation is at the very peak of public health influencers. It’s a private foundation, originally called the William H. Gates Foundation. Bill Gates was one of the founders of Microsoft, so he was already an influential American figure. Gates Foundation is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter.

Launched in 2000, the Gates Foundation is the largest private foundation in the world, with a primary focus on making sure that more children and young people “survive and thrive.” The foundation also has the goal of empowering the poorest individuals from around the world. They emphasize empowerment of women and girls to transform lives.

Followers: 2,000,000

6. Mayo Clinic – @MayoClinic

The Mayo Clinic is a crucial public health influencer, with the mission to inspire hope. They offer comprehensive healthcare services to patients through education, clinical practice, and research. Their value is: “The needs of the patient come first.”

Mayo Clinic is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter because of its work-renowned reputation as a leading-edge and technologically advanced network of hospitals and clinics. It’s a preferred provider for conditions and diseases that are difficult to treat, which also contributes to its reputation as a reliable source for health-, medical-, and research-related news and view.

Followers: 1,900,000

7. CDC — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – @CDCgov

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is one of the primary public health influencers, as the leading national public health institute. It’s a US federal agency, under the Department of Health and Human Services. The CDC is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter.

The role of the CDC is to protect public health and promote a higher quality of life, which they accomplish by education, prevention, and control related to disease, disability, injury, etc. They focus on the leading causes of disability and death, with programs that are designed to reduce the consequences. The preferred outcome is a healthy, productive life.

Followers: 1,400,000

8. National Institutes of Health – @NIH

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is one of the primary public health influencers, as a focal point for healthcare research. It is sponsored by Federal Government agencies. As the nation’s largest biomedical research agency, the goal of the NIH is to promote treatment and prevention, while building a knowledge base of healthcare data.

The NIH is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter, with the power to make a positive impact and save lives. Beyond its role as a leading research agency, the NIH continually makes important discoveries that saves lives and improves the improves the quality of life for Americans and people worldwide. The NIH oversee and facilitate training opportunities for researchers.

Followers: 1,000,000

9. NPR Health News – @NPRHealth

The National Public Radio (NPR) Health News is one of the primary public health influencers, with coverage from the NPR Science Desk. It covers topics related to healthcare, medicine, diet, recipes, drugs, world health issues, and disease control. It also covers disease prevention, health insurance, medical research, etc.

The NPR Health News is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter, because it offers comprehensive and savvy impressions of what is going on in the world of healthcare. NPR Health features in-depth interviews and soundscapes that capture the unique human-interest angles. NPR Health News shares the healthcare news and views that make a difference in your life, while shaping public policy and the evolution of health and wellness choice.

Followers: 973,200

10. U.S. Surgeon General – @Surgeon_General

The U.S. Surgeon General is a key public health influencer. As the operational head of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, the surgeon general is the public health spokesperson for the federal government.

The US Surgeon General is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter, with the power to call attention to current health and wellness concern, whether that be related to COVID-19 or smoking. The US Surgeon General has the responsibility to improve the health and quality of life for Americans, with directives that can directly impact work, everyday life, and play (extracurricular activities).

Followers:  650,900

11. U.S. FDA – @FDArecalls

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is one of the primary public health influencers. It is a federal agency, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services. The FDA is an executive department, responsible for protecting public health.

The role of the FDA is to ensure safety, but also to verify the efficacy of biological products and medical devices. They have oversight over the nation’s food supply and other topical human products (cosmetics). The FDA is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter, with the distribution of news, views, and education.

Followers: 641,100

12. NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine) – @NEJM

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) is a main academic public health influencer. It is a weekly medical journal, from the Massachusetts Medical Society. The NEJM is a prestigious peer-reviewed medical journal.

The NEJM is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter, with the highest impact of any journal covering internal medicine. It is also the oldest continuously published journal, with the first issue appearing in 1812. The Journal Watch offer summaries and commentary on journals, as a learning opportunity for clinicians. Other areas of influence include areas of clinical practice and general medicine.

Followers: 635,800

13. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – @DrTedros

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is a significant health influencer. He is an Ethiopian academic and politician, who is also the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) since 2017.

Dr. Ghebreyesus is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter, with a long history in healthcare that began in 1986. He is an internationally recognized researcher on malaria. He has been a vocal advocate for healthcare reform, with an emphasis on improving access to healthcare services. Most recently, he has been a prominent figure in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Followers: 596,100

14. American Public Health Association (APHA) – @PublicHealth

The American Public Health Association (APHA) is one of the main public health influencers. With the perspective and knowledge derived by their 150-years of advocacy and influence, the APHA directs its voice toward influencing policies and public health issues.

The APHA is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter. They stand apart for their longevity, but their multifaceted approach is directed to a mission of improving public health and equity in relation to health and wellness. Their vision is to create “the healthiest nation” in just one generation. It’s a lofty goal, but it’s one that APHA has dedicated itself in the pursuit of.

Followers: 490,700

15. JHU Public Health – @JohnsHopkinsSPH

The John Hopkins University (JHU) Pubic Health is one of highest-regarded public health influencers. Their goal is to save lives and to protect lives, with a focus of the millions who will benefit from the policy analysis, health research, and implementation.

JHU Public Health is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter. Their repository includes podcasts, webcasts, and articles that feature the most current evidence-based insights in public health. The JHU Public Health offers their influential voice to the calls for persistent caution and responsible advocacy in the face of COVID-19 and other healthcare issues both in the US and worldwide.

Followers: 455,500

16. Global Citizen – @GlblCtzn

The Global Citizen is a new breed of public health influencers. It’s a movement of concerned and engaged citizens. They’re using that collective voice to demand action to end extreme poverty and to ensure equality. They work toward the “possible dream,” which includes advocating for the empowerment of women and girls worldwide.

The Global Citizen is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter. Their current focus is on the world-wide response to COVID-19, highlighting positive responses to the pandemic as well as information dissemination via FAQs, and celebrity voices. It’s designed to be the platform where concerned citizens can take action and make an impact.

Followers: 392,600

17. JAMA – @JAMA_current

The JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association is one of the public health influencers. The JAMA covers virtually every healthcare specialty and healthcare topic. It’s a credible academic source, with current research and findings.

The JAMA is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter. Their objective is to promote the art and science of medicine. Launched in 1883 by Nathan Smith Davis, the JAMA holds the illustrious claim-to-fame of being the most widely circulated medical journal in the world. As the purveyor of educational information and resources related to healthcare, the JAMA also is in the position to report on and offer insight into the still rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic situation.

Followers: 336,100

18. Eric Topol – @EricTopol

Eric Topol is a significant public health influencer. He’s an American cardiologist and geneticist, with expertise as a digital medical researcher. He’s well known for his outspoken stance about the safety of rofecoxib (Vioxx).

After his unceremonious departure from Cleveland Clinic, Topol founded Scripps Research Translational Institute. He also holds prominent roles as Editor-in-Chief at TheHeart.org and Medscape. Eric is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter, but he’s also a prominent author, with a focus on the juxtaposition of technology and healthcare.

Followers: 193,900

19. Scott Gottlieb, MD – @ScottGottliebMD

Scott Gottlieb, MD is one of the top public health influencers. He’s an American medical policy expert, physician, and health advocate, well-known as the former Commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), from 2017-2019.

Dr. Gottlieb is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter. He is still a vocal voice in public health spheres, with commentary on the current state of healthcare in relation to widespread pandemics like the coronavirus, COVID-19.

Followers: 162,900

20. Dr. Robert R. Redfield – @CDCDirector

Dr. Robert R. Redfield is one of the most important public health influencers. He’s an American virologist, and he is the current Director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He is also the Administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. His early background in medical research was influenced by the fact that his parents were both NIH scientists.

Dr. Redfield is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter. He is renowned as a pioneer in virology research and therapeutic treatments for HIV infection and AIDS. He was the co-recipient of the “Entrepreneur of the Year” award at the University of Maryland, in 2012, and he has received numerous other awards as a physician-scientist.

Followers: 153,600

21. Francis S. Collins, MD, Ph.D. – @NIHDirector

Francis S. Collins, MD, Ph.D. is one of the crucial public health influencers. He’s an American geneticist-physician, as well as famous as a director and “gene hunter,” with gene discoveries that are now part of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).

Francis is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter. He has been the director for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 2009. As a spokesperson for the nation’s largest biomedical research agency, his role at the NIH focuses on promoting treatment and prevention. He trains and oversees the work of researchers, while playing an essential role as a influencer and purveyor of knowledge.

Followers: 120,300

22. Eric Feigl-Ding – @DrEricDing

Eric Feigl-Ding is a prestigious public health influencer. He is an American public health scientist, with a current “Visiting Scientist” position at the Harvard School of Public Health. He also holds key executive roles at the Macroclinic International.

As an award-winning scientist and speaker, Eric is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter. He’s been widely published with 100+ scientific papers across a range of topics including health economics, epidemiology, nutrition, and the prevention of disease (population-wide).

Followers: 115,700

23. Jeremy Konyndyk – @JeremyKonyndyk

Jeremy Konyndyk is one of the best public health influencers. He is a senior policy fellow at the Center of Global Development. His research focuses on USAID policy reform, humanitarian efforts, and outbreak preparedness on a global scale.

Jeremy is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter. His background also includes a prominent position as the director of the USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) for the Obama administration. In the coronavirus, COVID-19, he  famously made a “no-regrets” correlation with the preparedness effort.

Followers: 54,400

24. Kai Kupferschmidt – @kakape

Kai Kupferschmidt is one of the most respected public health influencers in Europe.  Kai is a recognized figure for his role of contributing correspondent for Science magazine. The publication is based in Berlin, Germany. He writes about infectious diseases, nutrition, science policy, and evolution.

With a diploma in molecular biomedicine from the University of Bonn, Germany, he  attended Berlin Journalism School. In addition to his contributing correspondent role for the Science magazine, he writes for the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. Kai is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter.

Followers: 48,000

25. Caitlin Rivers, PhD – @cmyeaton

Caitlin Rivers, PhD is one of the leading public health influencers. Dr. Rivers is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Dr. Rivers is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter, with her predictive modeling.  She is an epidemiologist who has been a prominent voice in the coronavirus, COVID-19 debate, as a proponent for utmost caution, agressive prevention, and absolute containment in the face of great danger.

Followers: 37,800

26. Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM – @lisagualtieri

Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM, is a model public health influencer. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, at Tufts University School of Medicine. She teaches about Digital Health, as part of the Health Informatic and Analytics Program.

Dr. Gualtieri is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter. She founded RecycleHealth.com to collect and distribute refurbished fitness trackers to underserved communities. One of the questions being raised in the current health and wellness climate is whether a tracking device could change behavior and/or even help to ensure social distancing and stem the spread of COVID-19.

Followers: 29,300

27. Isaac Bogoch, MD – @BogochIsaac

Isaac Bogoch, MD, is one of the primary public health influencers. He’s a specialist on infectious diseases, at Toronto General Hospital. He’s also an Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Bogoch is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter. He’s become a prominent voice in the wide-world of healthcare news related to COVID-19, with specific reference to the spread of the virus. He’s been frequently cited as a coronavirus expert, but also quoted about the inevitability of spread.

Followers: 11,600

28. Dr. Oni Blackstock – @DrOniBee

Dr. Oni Blackstock is a public health influencer in an epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. She is an Assistant Commissioner for the NYC Health Department. She is an HIV specialist, researcher, and primary care physician, but she also oversees programs and activities related to the HIV/AIDS Bureau.

Dr. Blackstock is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter. She is also a specialist on internal medicine. She was initially inspired by her mother’s dedication and community involvement to become a doctor and patient advocacy. Her voice is particularly important in the COVID-19 discussions.

Followers: 8200

29. Trevor Mundel – @trevormundel

As the President of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Trevor Mundel is one of the primary public health influencers. He leads efforts to develop intervention efforts to address the leading causes of disability and death primarily in developing countries.

Trevor is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter. Since he joined the foundation in 2011, he has managed R&D efforts in Tuberculosis, Pneumonia, Malaria, and other Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Followers: 7,546

30. BlackEpiMatters – @black_epi

BlackEpiMatters is a fascinating public health influencer. Its key focus is on uplifting epidemiologists, as well as offering a supporting environment to facilitate discussions. It started as the #BlackEpiMatters hashtag, which evolved into the @black_epi Twitter account, and then the meeting of epidemiologists. So, BlackEpiMatters is a key influencer on Public Health Twitter.

Followers: 1800

Who Has Influence in Public Health?

There are thousands of public health organizations around the world. Perhaps the World Health Organization is the most prominent. The United Nations founded WHO in 1948, and the organization is the international authority on public health issues. In the United States, one of the most important public health organizations is the Centers for Disease Control, the national public health institute designed to protect public health and safety. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) falls under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is one of the premier medical research centers in the world.

important people in public health include scientists who have unflinchingly battled epidemics and pandemics. Most recently, Dr. Anthony Falci, director of NIAID, has made headlines by urging the American public to embrace social distancing and follow recommendations to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. He was instrumental in the battle to curb the AIDs epidemic as well as various respiratory disease epidemics.

Other important people in public health history include:

  • Sir Waldemar Mordechai Wolff Haffkine: A Russian Jewish scientist credited with the development of the anti-cholera vaccine that saved cholera and bubonic plague victims.
  • Jonas Salk: He developed a vaccine for polio that eradicated the disease in most countries.
  • Alexander Fleming: In 1928, he discovered Penicillin.
  • Dr. Margaret Chan: She served as Director-General of the WHO and as a Public Health Director in Hong Kong during the Swine flu (H5N1) outbreak in 1997. Chan also handled the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak successfully in 2003.

Many newspapers and reports have contributed to public health journalism. Public health journalism reports the facts of outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics without sensationalizing them. Today, most journalists act responsibly and in the public interest when reporting on major issues impacting public health.

Why is Good Leadership Important to Public Health?

Is leadership and management important in public health? One study points out the importance of leadership in public health in spearheading the evolution of healthcare to community-wide approaches. Initiatives to expand competency development in public health leadership should concentrate on preparing community health systems to meet public health demands in an era of pandemics such as H5N1, SARS, and COVID-19.

Responsible leadership in public health will entail acceptance of an ecologically sound health model. Progressive public health leaders should promote clinical advances in understanding health management, which is directly dependent on competency development in public health leadership itself.

Is leadership and management important in public health?  The truth is, it’s essential. A shift to telehealth services and other benefits of a “systems perspective,” can alleviate the burden on our health delivery systems for patients seeking non-critical care.

How Can Ordinary People Influence Public Health Policy?

There are five main structural influences on public health, including:

  • Individual factors
  • Interpersonal factors
  • Institutional/organizational factors
  • Community factors
  • Public policy factors

The levels of influence public health leaders emphasize depend on the circumstances of a potential or existing threat influencing public health policy. For example, political influence on public health comes in the form of federal and state mandates to protect the general public. The ban on smoking in public is a broad example of political pressure to protect individuals.

The individual decision to smoke mainly affects the person smoking. However, second-hand smoke can impact anyone coming into contact with smokers. Therefore, a solution to the problem of second-hand smoke falls under the category of political influence on public health. To illustrate the levels of influence public health, consider a public campaign urging smokers to kick the habit. This is an example of the individual level of public health policy.

Institutions such as the WHO, CDC, and NIH exhibit structural influences on public health. There are plenty of recent examples demonstrating how the institutional layer plays a huge rule in influencing public health policy. Wide-scale mandates such as voluntary or involuntary social distance encompass the public health layer. At this level, public health takes precedence over everything else, including the economy and the rights of business owners and individual citizens.

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