Dr. George Mutwiri (DVM, PhD) believes there’s truth to the adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
As a professor and senior leader in the School of Public Health (SPH) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), Mutwiri has witnessed firsthand how preventative measures, such as vaccination, can lead to improved health outcomes at individual and population levels.
It’s this keen interest in prevention that led Mutwiri to a career in vaccine research and development, and to later explore public health as it relates to public policy, social advocacy, and socioeconomic factors.
“I always was interested in a preventative approach to control infectious disease. That is how I ended up spending many years in vaccine R&D (research and development),” Mutwiri said. “I went on and developed an interest in the socio-behavioural aspects of vaccines; that includes public-health measures. As my career evolved, I realized I can have more impact in training the future leaders of public health, and I can have much more impact as a leader myself.”
Mutwiri, who grew up in a small village in Kenya, has spent more than 25 years at USask, many of them serving as an educator, researcher, and leader in SPH. Prior to coming to Saskatchewan, he earned his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at the University of Nairobi, in Kenya, and his PhD at the University of Guelph, in Guelph, Ont. He was also a postgraduate research microbiologist at the University of California in San Diego before joining the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) at USask in 1997.
More recently, in late 2023, Mutwiri was appointed as the executive director of SPH for a three-year term—from Nov. 1, 2023, to Oct. 31, 2026. It’s a position for which he is well-prepared; he previously served as the school’s interim executive director from 2015 to 2017 and again from 2021 to Oct. 31, 2023, and, before that, as its assistant executive director from 2012 to 2015. In addition to his work in the school, Mutwiri was previously an adjunct professor with the Toxicology Centre and an associate member in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology in the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.
Professor Airini (PhD), USask’s provost and vice-president academic, said Mutwiri is a dedicated leader who is well positioned to lead SPH for the next three years.
“I am so pleased to welcome Dr. Mutwiri into this key leadership role at USask,” said Airini. “Dr. Mutwiri has contributed significantly to our university during his time as the interim executive director of the School of Public Health. We all look forward to further working with Dr. Mutwiri to further advance innovative graduate training, research, and programming to support our public health system’s response to future challenges and opportunities.”
A full professor in SPH, Mutwiri has held leadership roles on and off campus, including as the president of the American Association of Veterinary Immunologists and as the president of AFRI-CAN investors Inc. In addition, he has served as a member of a variety of institutional and college- and school-level committees and groups at USask, including the Senior Leadership Forum, Deans’ Council, the Health Sciences Deans Committee, and the Black History Month Committee, through which he helped to organize the inaugural USask Black History Month celebration in February 2022. In January 2024, he accepted the role of co-chair of the Provost’s Advisory Committee – Scarborough Charter. He has also engaged in USask’s Greystone Leadership Development Program and in LEADS Global.
An outstanding researcher, Mutwiri has authored more than 170 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and abstracts for conferences. As principal investigator, co-principal investigator, or collaborator, he has attracted more than $18 million in research funding, and has engaged in international collaborations in the United States, China, Kenya, and Rwanda. Mutwiri and his colleagues at SPH are currently developing a public health network between USask and four universities in the Caribbean region. In his new role as executive director of the school, he is committed to helping faculty establish careers and externally funded research programs at USask, drawing from extensive research experience.
Mutwiri said he sought the executive director position because he aspires to serve the university and the larger community. He also wants to help develop and support the next generation of public health leaders—including students, faculty, and community members outside of academia. He believes everyone has the potential to be a leader in the public health space, regardless of their formal training or their position or job title within an organization.
“My current view of leadership is one where all are involved in determining the future of our overall health and well-being,” he said.
Mutwiri has taught several graduate courses in the school and developed and teaches some topics in PUBH 877: Leadership in Public Health. He is a mentor who has supervised post-doctoral fellows, PhD students, and master’s students, and has advised numerous Master of Public Health students. As an administrator and researcher, Mutwiri values interdisciplinary collaboration and looks for opportunities to work with other USask schools and colleges to co-develop innovative academic programs for the benefit of students and the community. He believes other academic disciplines at the university have much to contribute to public health teaching and learning.
“One of my mantras is that we have strength in diversity at USask,” he said. “We have eight life science colleges and a school on one campus. We are growing diversity of people in terms of experiences and identities. This is a rich environment for creativity.”
Mutwiri points to examples of productive interdisciplinary collaborations that have occurred at USask, including a collaborative biostatistics program that was developed through a partnership between the School of Public Health, the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in the College of Arts and Science, and the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology in the College of Medicine. As well, SPH is currently in the advanced stages of developing a joint-degree program (MN-MPH) with the College of Nursing, and the school is exploring the development of a joint program with the College of Dentistry, he said.
In alignment with Mutwiri’s interest in the role of prevention in public health, the school is also co-developing a new course with the College of Kinesiology that will focus on the relationship between exercise and well-being. And, in 2023, the school began offering a new Graduate Certificate in Substance Use Health and Well-being, which is open to students and professionals from allied health fields—including medicine, nursing, social work, dentistry, psychology, and law—and is for learners who want to advance their competency in improving substance-related health well-being spanning through policy, research, and public health practice.
Throughout his time at the school, Mutwiri has seen many changes occur in the field of public health. He noted that the definition of public health has continued to evolve over the years, and so too have conversations around the core competencies associated with public health training in Canada. When the Public Health Agency of Canada first released the document Core Competencies for Public Health in Canada in 2008, the competencies were divided into seven categories: public health sciences; assessment and analysis; policy and program planning, implementation, and evaluation; partnerships, collaboration, and advocacy; diversity and inclusiveness; communication; and leadership.
Now, following the COVID-19 pandemic, these core competencies are being revisited in Canada and up to 13 domains have been identified, significant growth from the Public Health Agency of Canada’s initial seven. Consequently, SPH is revising its curricula to reflect this development in its training programs.
Mutwiri believes the expansion of the core competencies will ultimately provide students, educators, and researchers with a more fulsome view of what it means to be a public health professional and to better advocate for public health.
“These now include very new exciting areas like social justice, health equity, Indigenous health, and other areas,” said Mutwiri. “So, you can see, public health is an evolving field of practice. This is my challenge, for me, as a leader: to make sure we are training public health professionals to meet the needs and challenges of today, and the future.”