Mary-Louise McLaws and Kerry Chant in Queen’s birthday honours

Mary-Louise McLaws spends her days being cared for by her family and friends. 

It’s a stark contrast from what she was doing before she received her cancer diagnosis earlier this year. 

As an epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales since 1992 and advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO), Professor McLaws was providing expert advice on COVID-19 to Australians throughout the pandemic. 

“Now all of a sudden the Australian communities’ caring for me,” Professor McLaws said.

Professor McLaws has been recognised in this year’s Queen’s Birthday honours list, appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for “distinguished service to medical research, particularly to epidemiology and infection prevention, to tertiary education, and to health administration”. 


In 2005, she began working for the WHO, and in 2020, she was appointed to the WHO experts advisory panel for infection control for COVID-19. 

But in January her world suddenly changed, no longer providing advice but taking it, after she was diagnosed with brain cancer. 

“I have been very fortunate to be well-organised by doctors and nurses,” Professor McLaws said. 

Since taking leave, she has undergone a range of medical treatments for brain cancer, including chemotherapy and surgery. 

Although she announced on Twitter she would be taking “a month’s sick leave”, she has told the ABC she was in no rush to return to work. 

“I have a perfect husband who makes great dinner and lunches. So for the moment, I’m going to enjoy this change.”

NSW’s Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant has also been appointed an AO for her service to public health and medicine. 

Dr Chant served as the director of the public health unit at the Sydney South West Area Health Service before she was promoted to her current role in 2008.

Kerry Chant addresses the media
Kerry Chant became a household name during the pandemic for her health updates. (AAP: Joel Carratt)

She has made significant contributions to eliminate HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, as well as being pivotal in containing the spread of the Swine flu.

But her most notable contribution to the people of NSW was her commitment to providing COVID updates at the daily press conferences.

Dr Chant said in a statement the honour was a “tribute” to her colleagues working throughout the pandemic. 

“This honour is a tribute to my many colleagues in NSW Health for the outstanding work they have done and continue to do to keep the community safe throughout the COVID pandemic,” she said. 

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