Felicia Marie Knaul, BA (International Development, University of Toronto), MA, PhD (Economics, Harvard University), has dedicated more than three decades to academic, translational research, advocacy and policy work in global health focused on reducing inequities and improving the condition of vulnerable groups, primarily in low- and middle-income countries and especially in Latin America and the Caribbean.
At the University of Miami, she is Director of the Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas and of the office for Hemispheric and Global Affairs, Professor at the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, a Full Member of the Cancer Control Program at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, and cross-appointed at the School of Nursing and Health Studies, the Herbert Business School, and the College of Arts and Sciences. From 2009 to 2015, Dr. Knaul was Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Harvard Global Equity Initiative, an inter-faculty program chaired by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. Prior to that she health multiple research, academic and policy posts in Mexico.
Her research focuses on global health, violence against women and children, gender-based violence, cancer and especially breast cancer, access to pain relief and palliative care, health systems and reform, health financing, women and health, medical employment, poverty and inequity, female labor force participation, and at-risk children and youth.
Dr. Knaul has produced close to 315 academic and policy publications. Most notable among them is the Lancet Commission report, “Alleviating the access abyss in palliative care and pain relief – an imperative of universal health coverage,” which has been called a “landmark report” by the Lancet and was featured in the BBC, the Washington Post, Project Syndicate, The Guardian, and Voice of America, and which she lead-authored and has spawned an array of research papers, data collection, advocacy and policy work, including being used by the International Narcotics Control Board to assess country need and performance. From 2012-2015, she was a member of the Lancet Commission on Women and Health and a leading co-author of the June 2015 report, and has just completed a manuscript refining the estimates of gender differentials in paid and unpaid contributions to health and caregiving.
In 2012, she led a Lancet group publication that reviewed the health system reform of Mexico, and a major update paper is under review at The Lancet covering 2013 to 2021, covering both the dismantling of the 2003 health reform and the response to COVID. These papers follow-on The Lancet 2006 Mexico series that she also chaired. This work on Seguro Popular and financial protection in Mexico won the 2005 Global Development Network Prize for Outstanding Research on Change in the Health Sector. This work was an input into the 2013-2014 Lancet Series Universal Health Coverage in Latin America.
She has authored and served as lead editor of several books and special issues of journals, including Closing the Cancer Divide (Harvard University Press/Harvard Global Equity Initiative 2012) and Financing Health in Latin America: Household Spending and Impoverishment (Harvard University Press/Harvard Global Equity Initiative 2013), Caleidoscopio de la Salud. De la Investigación a las Políticas y de las Políticas a la Acción, and Inclusión educativa para niños, niñas y jóvenes hospitalizados (Fondo de Cultura Económica e Intersistemas 2006), and Salud Pública de México, Edición Especial sobre Cáncer de Mama: un reto para la sociedad y los sistemas de salud 2009. Her doctoral thesis focused on street and working children, gender differentials in forms of child labour and risk of domestic and community violence for children and was based on extensive primary data collection in low-income neighborhoods in Colombia as well as the Dominican Republic.
Dr. Knaul has created and coordinated many international research and policy networks. She currently Co-Chairs the Lancet Commission on Cancer and Health Systems and Lancet Commission on Gender-based Violence and Maltreatment of Young People. From 2014-2017, she founded and co-chaired (with Dr. Paul Farmer) the Lancet Commission on Global Access to Palliative Care and Pain Relief and that work has now spawned a highly productive global research hub working under her leadership that initiated in 2021, as well as a new translational research endeavour “The Lancet Commission Triad to Close the Global Pain Divide” which brings together chairs and leaders this The Lancet Commission on the Value of Death, and The Stanford-Lancet Commission on the North American Opioid Crisis. In 2020 and 2021 she brought together and led a group of researchers from eight Latin America countries to collect and analyze data on COVID-19 and sub-national policymaking that resulted in multiple group-science papers and new health systems research. She founded and directed the Harvard Global Task Force on Expanded Access to Cancer Care and Control and was a member of the Global Task Force on Radiotherapy for Cancer Control. Dr. Knaul also coordinated the Global Network for Health Equity, an initiative that brought together researchers from Latin America, in association with the Asia EQUITAP network and the Africa SHIELD network with funding from IDRC Canada.
Dr. Knaul maintains a strong and synergistic global program of research and translation of research into policy making and contributes to an array of research networks and organizations that promote and disseminate evidence. She serves on the Lancet Commission on the Value of Death, and currently serves on the Vatican-Lancet-Mario Negri Commission on the Value of Life and the Lancet Commission on Breast Cancer as well as on the international advisory board of The Lancet Global Health and The Lancet Regional Health – Americas. She also sits on the boards of several not-for-profits dedicated to undertaking and disseminating global health research including NCD Child, Casa de Esperanza, Women in Global Health, and the International Association for Hospice & Palliative Care, and was on the Union for International Cancer Control board from 2010-2014. She has worked with bilateral and multilateral agencies such as the World Health Organization and the World Bank and has participated in several global policy reports.
Based on research accomplishments, Dr. Knaul was made a member of the Mexican National Academy of Medicine and, holds Level III (the most senior) of the Mexican National System of Researchers. She was inducted into the Canadian Academy of Health Scienes in 2020 and as an Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing in 2021.
Her translational research includes a strong focus on Mexico. She is Senior Economist at the Mexican Health Foundation and Honorary Research Professor of Medical Sciences at the National Institute of Public Health of Mexico. In 2008, as a result of her breast cancer experience, Dr. Knaul founded Cáncer de Mama: Tómatelo a Pecho, a Mexican non-profit agency that has promoted research, advocacy, awareness, and early detection of breast cancer since its inception. She lectures globally on the challenge of cancer, both as patient-advocate and health systems researcher, and published the memoir Tómatelo a Pecho (Grupo Santillana, 2009) and Beauty without the Breast (Harvard University Press/ Harvard Global Equity Initiative 2013). Her story and her work have been featured in Science, Cancer Today, Miami ABC 10, The Miami Herald, The Lancet, WHO Bulletin, and Newsweek en Español. In 2019, Tómatelo a Pecho expanded its mandate to promote women’s health broadly, including research focused on ending gender-based violence.
She has held senior, federal government positions at the Ministries of Education and Social Development of Mexico, and the Colombian Department of Planning and worked on health reform and social development in both countries. She has led or participated in several global policy reports, including the World Health Report 2000, and directed the production of various papers for the government of Mexico on education, health and children´s rights. While working for the Minister of Education of Mexico she designed and implemented an evidence-based national, inter-institutional program Sigamos Aprendiendo en el Hospital, and catalyzed the placement of officially-recognized schools in tertiary hospitals throughout the country. As the founder and director of the program, she put in place an inter-institutional, multi-disciplinary group of researchers, government leaders, advocates and donors, working with the First Lady and the ministers of health and education, and produced research publications documented both the design and the initial results. She also chaired a multi-sectorial, inter-institutional working group and lead authored the Programa Nacional de Acción en favor de la Infancia 2002-2010 (the national action program for children), the blueprint for the Mexican response to the Special 2012 Session of the United Nations.
Working in a voluntary capacity with the Ministry of Health from 2000 to 2006, she led much of the analysis on financing and health spending that translated into the design of the Seguro Popular and has produced a steady stream of research on the Mexican health system from 1993, including major papers in the Lancet in 2003, 2006, 2012 and one currently under review.
She has received several recognitions of her work including being named “Local Hero” by the American Medical Women’s Association in 2016, and one of Mexico’s most influential women in 2013. She was awarded “Flama, Vida y Mujer” by the Autonomous University of the State of Nuevo Leon, and the Global Health Catalyst Award by students of Harvard University. She is a recognized leader in South Florida and received the Philanthropy Award from Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and has been featured in the Boca Raton Observer, Indulge Magazine, and Ocean Drive.
Dr. Knaul is a citizen of Canada and the United Kingdom, and a permanent resident of Mexico. She and her husband, Dr. Julio Frenk, have two children, Sofia Hannah (26 and a December 2020 graduate of the University of Miami) and Mariana Havivah (18). Her brother Major Jonathan Knaul live in Toronto.