Gordon Wyon Awards

Gordon-Wyon Award for Excellence in Community-Oriented Public Health, Epidemiology and Practice


About John Gordon and John Wyon


As a young bacteriologist and physician directing the huge fever hospital in Detroit in the 1930s, John Gordon was appalled by the high prevalence of infectious diseases, particularly among young children. Longing to document and understand a scarlet fever epidemic from its first to its last case, he found the Rockefeller Foundation ready to support his goal. In his chosen site in Rumania he drew on the experience of the Rockefeller Foundation scientists in China, who had pioneered a community-based approach to primary health care, notably John B. Grant, father of James Grant who served as head of UNICEF. Meanwhile, the Harvard University School of Public Health pursued Gordon to head its Department of Epidemiology, even before the now meticulously documented scarlet fever epidemic in Rumania had ended.


But only two years later World War II claimed John Gordon for six years. For two years he was responsible to the British government to identify all unrecognized epidemics in Britain. From 1943 to 1945, he was Chief of Preventive Medicine for all U. S. forces, first in Europe and then in Asia. In this capacity he learned how to use military units as the denominator base for studying the frequencies of every conceivable kind of disease and injury affecting the military. He quickly applied findings to the design, management, and evaluation of preventive and curative programs.


Returning to Harvard in 1946, John Gordon broadened his career in epidemiology into non-infectious diseases and non-disease epidemiology. One example of the former was his work with Nevin Scrimshaw and Carl Taylor on interactions between infection and malnutrition, which led to the pioneering statement on the subject by the World Health Organization (Scrimshaw, Taylor, and Gordon, 1968). At the level of concepts, Gordon returned the word "epidemiology" from its earlier restriction to only infectious diseases to its broad meaning in Greek of "the study of things that happen to people."


In 1951 John Gordon took the first steps towards a longitudinal field study of rapid population growth, and of its component rates of birth, death, and migration. John Wyon worked with John Gordon on that study for seven years of field work in defined sets of Indian villages, and the for ten subsequent years in Boston analyzing the data and reporting the findings. This included studies of non-diseases, such as conception, pregnancy, lactation, and migration. During the later years of their field work John Gordon also spent three months each year in Guatemala with Nevin Scrimshaw. John Wyon spent the remainder of his career as Senior Lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health.


Both John Gordon and John Wyon became champions of the idea that public health and epidemiology need to give priority to involving communities in the work of public health and to collecting local epidemiological data for designing and implementing health programs.


John Gordon was an early proponent of the longitudinal home-based epidemiological surveillance. He developed methods for carrying this out in a variety of settings, including in Rumania from 1934-1938. This early experience led the way for the Khanna Study, in which households were visited monthly for seven years. The Khanna Study proved to be one of the world's pioneering studies in community epidemiology. This same approach was also applied in the famous Narangwal Project led by Carl Taylor and in the INCAP village studies in Guatemala led by Nevin Scrimshaw.


Building on this experience, John Wyon became a passionate advocate for community-oriented public health. His oft-repeated comments were (more or less) as follows:


"Public health should be thought of as a three-legged stool. One leg consists of disease-oriented public health, another of services-oriented public health, and the third of community-oriented public health.

The goal of disease-oriented public health is to control a specific condition or disease within a population.

The goal of services-oriented public health is to ensure that health-related services reach those that need them.

The goal of community-oriented public health is to improve the health within a community (or a set of communities) by learning what are the most serious, frequent and preventable causes of death and illness and addressing them as well as the community's priorities in close collaboration with the community."


These three forms of public health are mutually reinforcing and equally important.


The International Health Section and its Working Group on Community-Based Primary Health Care honor the contributions of John Gordon and John Wyon for their pioneering work and for their vision for public health. Their work has had a long and enduring effect on the global health community through their influence on several generations of public health practitioners who have established evidenced-based community-oriented approaches to health programs in developing countries.


At the same time, the Section wants to recognize individuals and organizations making outstanding contributions in the field of community-oriented public health, epidemiology and practice.


The International Health Section has authorized the creation of this new award, which will be administered by the Working Group on Community-Based Primary Health Care. Nominations will be sought by the Working Group, and awards will be given at the annual awards ceremony of the International Health Section to an individual, a group of individuals, or an organization that has made a notable contribution to the field of community-oriented public health, practice and epidemiology.

Past Award Recipients:

2011 - Dr. John H. Bryant

2010 - Dr. Carl Taylor and Dr. Rajanikant Arole

2009 - Dr. Henry J. Perry III

2008 - Dr. Bette J. Gebrian

2007- Dr. Jaime Gofin

2006- Drs. Warren and Gretchen Berggren