GAVI Alliance CEO sets out challenges and opportunities in immunisation

Watch Dr Seth Berkley deliver the inaugural lecture at the Wellcome Trust – Cambridge Centre for Global Health Research

Geneva, 24 May 2013 - Dr Seth Berkley shared the inside story of how lifesaving vaccines are reaching children in the world’s poorest countries in record time with GAVI support as he delivered the inaugural lecture at the Wellcome Trust – Cambridge Centre for Global Health Research.

The GAVI Alliance CEO addressed a packed Howard Theatre at Cambridge University where he signalled the Geneva-based public-private partnership’s determination to reach an additional quarter of a billion children with immunisations by 2015.

Lasting impact

In the lecture Dr Berkley explained how GAVI operates and why this is critical to ensuring it has a lasting impact. As a 21st Century development organisation, GAVI is an inclusive and diverse partnership bringing together the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and recipient and donor countries together with NGOs, vaccine manufacturers, technical research institutes and individuals with skills and commitment to immunise children.

In the GAVI model, developing countries lead vaccine uptake and co-finance the cost of the vaccines they receive to ensure immunisation programmes are sustainable after GAVI support ends. With a Board structure drawn from a diverse range of sectors, GAVI seeks to inject private sector innovation into public health issues.

Closing the gaps

Dr Berkley also highlighted GAVI’s work to close the gaps in immunisation between children in rich and poor countries. He focused on progress achieved in significantly shortening the time it takes for new, technologically advanced vaccines that are available in industrialised countries to reach children in the developing world. This includes for example the pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against the leading cause of pneumonia, the largest vaccine-preventable killer of children under five.

Data and supply chain issues

Despite GAVI’s success in immunising 370 million children since 2000, challenges remain in reaching all children no matter where they live. Dr Berkley highlighted data and supply chain issues as two of the key areas for focus and set a challenge for his Cambridge University audience to engage in thinking about how GAVI can solve its challenges.

Dr Berkley’s lecture was followed by an address by Derek Smith, Professor of Infectious Disease Informatics, who detailed some of Cambridge’s work on mapping the evolution of various pathogens. The session closed with questions from the audience.

Leveraging expertise in science and technology for development

During his visit, Dr Berkley met with Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, and Dr Jennifer Barnes, Pro-Vice Chancellor for International Strategy. They described the University of Cambridge’s focus on leveraging expertise in science and technology for development, and the university-wide commitment to extending their work within Africa. Dr Berkley challenged them to use this focus, including their partnerships with some of the major universities and research institutions in Africa, to try to help solve some of the major challenges facing immunisation across the continent.

Dr Berkley said, “It was an honour to give the inaugural lecture at the Wellcome Trust – Cambridge Centre for Global Health Research and a privilege to be able to share the exciting work we are undertaking at GAVI. We sincerely hope the audience will be stimulated to think about the challenges we face in reaching unreached children with vaccines and how they can use the university’s focus on Africa and science and technology to help solve some of these problems.”

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