This is a blog by Dr. Seth Berkley, the CEO of the GAVI Alliance.
Visiting Australia this week (20-23 March), my top priority is to say thanks for the incredibly generous support to immunisation in general and the GAVI Alliance in particular. Contributing a total US$ 265.6 million for the period 2011 – 2015 alone, Australia is batting well above average.
It’s for an excellent cause. Set up just over a decade ago as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, GAVI has helped save an estimated 5.5 million lives in the developing world. Working with partners such as Results International (including our friends in RESULTS Australia), the Global Poverty Project, WHO and UNICEF, our support for the immunisation of 326 million children also prevents disease and disability.
To Australians, these extraordinary figures might read a bit like a Don Bradman scorecard, but the point is that we’re using immunisation to save large numbers of lives. And we could not have achieved such results without your support. Thank you, Australia. Thank you, Australians.
It’s an exciting time to be involved with immunisation.
Extraordinary effort in India, for example, means the Asian giant has not had any new polio cases for over a year -- not a bad accomplishment in a country where 26 million children are born every year, many of them nomadic or unregistered, and where two years ago were the largest number of polio cases in the world.
The result brings us even closer to eradicating polio, now endemic in just three countries (Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan) down from 125 in 1988. By comparison, these three countries have an annual birth cohort of 13 million and India’s success shows polio eradication is possible.
If we fail, by the way, we can expect to see many children paralysed every year within a decade forever. We simply have to beat polio and, with the right vaccines and your continuing support, we can.
Meanwhile, GAVI’s market-shaping work means developing countries now have access to new vaccines against pneumococcal disease and rotavirus, the two biggest vaccine-preventable killers of children under five years old.
These diseases together kill nearly one million children every year. It is an utterly sickening figure, but I’m incredibly proud that -- supported by donors such as Australia – GAVI’s work will bring these appalling mortality figures down in the coming years.
These two vaccines mean that GAVI now supports vaccines against a total 11 diseases.
The rubella vaccine is the latest vaccine to join our portfolio and we’re just about to offer it to developing countries for the very first time. Incidentally, it was an Australian scientist, Norman Gregg (not to be confused with Greg Norman, Australia’s golfing legend), who first spotted the links between rubella and congenital birth defects.
In the countries that GAVI works with, some 90,000 children are born every year with serious birth defects collectively known as congenital rubella syndrome, an easily preventable tragedy for mother and child alike. But, backed by countries like Australia, this number can come down.
We’re also looking to support countries with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine against cervical cancer causing 275,00 deaths per year, another ground breaking vaccine developed by an Australian, Professor Ian Frazer. There is a wonderful video interview with him talking about his discovery and what it will mean for millions of women in developing countries here on the GAVI Alliance website (click here to see it).
The hepatitis A and B vaccines exist today thanks to another Australian Ian Gust’s distinguished research leadership.
As a medical doctor, epidemiologist, and chief executive of GAVI, I am very excited about the power and potential of immunisation.
Too many parents in this world don’t have easy access to large and efficient hospitals. They live too far away, they don’t have transport, the roads are bad, their sick child may reach the hospital too late, if at all.
Prevention of disease through vaccination really is key. And the parents know it well.
At the GAVI Alliance we believe that every child should have access to life saving vaccines, no matter where he or she is born. These cost-effective life-saving technologies are already saving the lives of more than 2.5 million children every year.
Any child dying from vaccine-preventable disease is an unnecessary death. Yet a child dies of a vaccine-preventable disease every 20 seconds.So we still have more work to do to reach the children who still do receive this opportunity.
But rest assured, Australia is playing its part with funds, expertise and support.
And it’s very good to be here to say THANK YOU.
About the author:
Dr Seth Berkley joined the GAVI Alliance as CEO in August 2011, as it launched its five-year strategy to immunise a quarter of a billion children in the developing world with life-saving vaccines by 2015.
Prior to joining the GAVI Alliance, Seth was the founder, president and CEO for 15 years of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), the first vaccine product development public-private sector partnership. Under his leadership, IAVI implemented a global advocacy programme that assured that vaccines received prominent attention in the media and in forums such as the G 8, EU and the UN.
He also oversaw the creation of a virtual vaccine product development effort involving industry, academia, and developing country scientists.
Prior to founding IAVI, Seth served as associate director in the Health Sciences Division at The Rockefeller Foundation. He has also worked for the Center for Infectious Diseases of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and for the Carter Center where he served as an epidemiologist at the Ministry of Health in Uganda.
He has consulted or worked in more than 25 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Seth sits on a number of international steering committees and corporate and not-for-profit boards, including those of Gilead Sciences, the New York Academy of Sciences and the Acumen Fund.
In the past, he has also served on the boards of public and private vaccine companies such as PowderJect and VaxInnate and health and development organisations such as OXFAM America.
He has been featured on the cover of Newsweek, recognised by TIME magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” and by Wired Magazine as among “The Wired 25 – a salute to dreamers, inventors, mavericks and leaders.”
Seth received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Brown University and trained in internal medicine at Harvard University.