Obituary – Professor Steve Lawn


Steve Lawn was Professor of Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and Honorary Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases and HIV, at the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre at the University of Cape Town, where he was based from 2005-2012. He made major contributions to the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis (TB) among populations affected by HIV/AIDS, and hence to reducing the burden caused by these illnesses. His pioneering work on strategies for rapid diagnostic screening for TB resulted in many influential publications and contributed to WHO guidelines. Steve was a wonderful teacher, supervisor, and mentor immensely popular with students. Even as his illness worsened, he continued to teach,  leading the School’s HIV/AIDS module and guiding PhD students to successful completion. He was a very active member of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine TB Centre.

As a young Yorkshire man at medical school in Nottingham, Steve crossed the Sahara Desert to West Africa in 1984, during the worst famine in a generation. This trip transformed his life goals from being a extremely bright doctor in the UK  (his medical school year book notes he was the biggest brain in his year), to being passionately committed to saving lives and improving the health of people in the poorest areas of Africa. He and his wife Joy, now also a Professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, worked in Ghana (1993-1997), at the Centres for Disease Control in the USA (1997-2001) and London (2001-2004) before a very fruitful and happy 8 years in Cape Town. Steve was a core member of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre and many of his 255 published papers were based on work done there which particularly focused on the urban poor in townships.

Steve lived life to the full in every way, not just work. He loved challenges and climbed Kilimanjaro with his son Tim to raise money for housing in a township and ran  a number of marathons and ultra-marathons. In mid Oct 2014 after only 5 days of headache he was diagnosed with a large, very malignant brain tumour (Glioblastoma grade IV). He rose to this challenge with his characteristic courage, humour and faith even cycling more than 20 miles round trip to his brutal radiotherapy sessions.  He gave his inaugural lecture at the time of his 50th in March 2016 and continued working until July 2016.

Steve was remembered in a memorial service on 7 October 2016, attended by over 200 people. You can watch the recording online.


The Steve Lawn Memorial Fund honours Steve’s life and work, providing an annual lecture by a leading authority in TB and a prize to a junior researcher in TB. Read more about the fund and donate.

You can read Steve Lawn’s obituary in the following publications:

The International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Health also published an article about Steve “The contributions of Steve Lawn to the science, advocacy and policy of HIV associated TB


Comments are closed.