Kent Campbell, an instrumental figure in the global battle against malaria — most notably in Africa, where he led an innovative program providing bed nets to protect rural villagers from the mosquitoes carrying the disease — died on Feb. 20 in Oro Valley, Ariz., a suburb of Tucson. He was 80.

His death, in a nursing care facility, was caused by complications of cancer, his children said.

As chief of the malaria branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1981 to 1993, and later as an adviser to UNICEF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Campbell is credited with helping to save lives on multiple continents.

In Zambia, where he began working on a program with the Gates Foundation in 2005 distributing bed nets and newer antimalarial drugs, malaria cases were cut in half within three years. The program was later expanded to more than 40 other countries in Africa.

“His legacy in my country is as one of the people who greatly contributed to the control and prevention of malaria,” Kafula Silumbe, a Zambian public health specialist who worked closely with Dr. Campbell, said in an interview. “It was a collective effort, but he definitely was part of that initial push.”

Tall and lanky, with a Southern drawl that revealed his Tennessee upbringing, Dr. Campbell stumbled on what would become a four-decade-long career in public health.

In 1972, during his pediatric residency in Boston, he joined the C.D.C. as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. Not long after, he was sent to Sierra Leone to help investigate an outbreak of Lassa fever, a virulent hemorrhagic virus.

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