A world-class scholar on the health implications of globalization, Kelley Lee has supported reform of the World Health Organization, advanced global tobacco control and now helping to strengthen global outbreak response

FHS professor named to Royal Society of Canada

September 08, 2020

Kelley Lee, Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) professor and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair, is one of seven SFU scholars elected a­s a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) for 2020. Membership in the RSC is Canada’s highest academic honour. 

A world-class scholar on the health implications of globalization, Lee has worked closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other United Nations (UN) organizations, along with other key players in global health. Applying her expertise in international political economy and relations, she has conducted detailed analysis of the demanding world of global health policy making.

“Joining the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and working with professor Gill Walt during my early career, I got involved in several initiatives to strengthen WHO and to study decision making in other major UN bodies,” Lee recounts. “I then worked closely with WHO, UNICEF, government ministries, charitable foundations and non-governmental organizations to support their understanding of the rapid changes being brought by globalization and advise on adaptations to their work programs.”

For Lee, hidden forms of power particularly fascinate her - power distributions and dynamics we cannot see but operate for the benefit of some and often at the cost of others. Her research on the tobacco industry, for example, is informed by a desire to reveal how powerful vested interests can shape public policy processes and outcomes with deadly effect.

“What is deeply concerning are the often hidden ways in which the tobacco industry’s funding is channelled to influence policy via chambers of commerce, journalists, think tanks, public relations firms, charities and, closest to home, academic institutions and scholars,” she explains. ”Along with securing and making publicly available millions of pages of internal industry documents, I have worked with researchers around the world to analyze what these documents tell us about the below the radar strategies of tobacco companies.”

At the forefront of the national effort to accelerate COVID-19 research, Lee is leading an international team studying the role of the WHO International Health Regulations in governing the use of cross-border measures, notably travel and trade restrictions.

“The purpose of the study is to support decision makers in the use of cross-border measures and ultimately to strengthen coordination in global outbreak response,” she explains.

Lee credits her success in her current fields to James MacGregor and Eric Lee, then professors at the University of Victoria, for their mentorship when she was a graduate student. She also credits her physician husband, Dr. Andrew Gilmore, for helping her pivot from studying global telecommunications policy to a long career in global health research.

Established in 1883 as Canada’s national academy, the RSC promotes research and learning in the arts, humanities and sciences. Fellowships are awarded to peer-elected and distinguished individuals who have made significant contributions in these fields.

Lee’s work and research exemplify the RSC’s mandate to build a better future for Canada and the world.

”As the COVID-19 pandemic revealed how global markets do not operate in a political and social vacuum, we face the urgent challenge of fixing this disconnect between economic and political globalization,” she says. “My research on institutional innovation and global health governance seeks to contribute to this profoundly important debate.”