Seth Berkley


Gates-backed vaccine alliance targets cervical cancer in poor countries – for a price | 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s biggest, and arguably most successful, project in global health has announced a new deal with vaccine manufacturers aimed at combatting one of the biggest killers of women in the developing world, cervical cancer.

Seth Berkley
Seth Berkley

“This is a disease that is killing women in the prime of their life,” said Seth Berkley, CEO of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), an initiative launched by the Gates Foundation in 2000 which has in the last dozen or so years prevented millions of deaths in children by expanding access to new vaccines in poor countries.

Most cervical cancer is caused by a virus, human papillomoa virus or HPV, and the drug industry has developed a number of HPV vaccines. But these new vaccines are expensive (more than $100 per dose) and have been out-of-reach for most poor countries. Women in rich countries have access to cervical cancer screening (Pap tests) and curative treatment, but women in poor countries generally do not.

“As a result, we see an estimated 275,000 women dying from cervical cancer in these countries every year,” Berkley said. Girls and women in poor countries are hit by a ‘triple whammy,’ he said, of higher disease incidence, lack of diagnosis and lack of treatment. Without access to a preventive vaccine, Berkley said, that death toll will only increase.

GAVI will begin support for HPV vaccines in Kenya as early as this month followed by Ghana, Lao PDR, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Sierra Leone and the United Republic of Tanzania. – See more at:

Today, at the World Economic Forum on Africa meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, GAVI announced that two drug companies, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, have agreed to provide their HPV vaccines to poor countries for $4.50 and $4.60, respectively, per dose. Continue reading

Bill Gates’ humanitarian plan for world (vaccination) domination | 

Bill Gates vaccine

Bill Gates loves vaccines.

He says so all the time. The media, as well as the social media hipsterverse, regularly report on this love affair, usually cheering along with Gates in favor of the cause of polio eradication — a cause which was advanced recently at a meeting he and other glitterati convened in Abu Dhabi, the world’s richest city.

Gates says the very foundation of his foundation comes from his realization in the 1990s that kids were dying for lack of access to a vaccine we in the rich world take for granted. As a result, boosting vaccination worldwide became the prime mover, the raison d’être, for what would soon be the world’s biggest philanthropy.

Yet few appreciate today just how revolutionary, and unlikely, was the start of this love affair.

Promoting this powerful, fundamental tool for children’s health may look now like an obvious humanitarian thing for a philanthropist to do. But it wasn’t either obvious or that celebrated when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation started down this path (pun intended) in the 1990s.

The Gates Foundation’s push for a revolution in immunization was greeted, from the outset, by a weird combination of controversy and apathy. Continue reading

The obscure bug that set off Bill Gates, awakening a geeky giant | 

Tom Paulson

Nelson Zambrana cradles his child sick from rotavirus in Nicaraguan hospital

It kills anywhere from a quarter-million to half-a-million kids every year and is one of the world’s leading causes of child mortality.

But it wasn’t too long ago hardly anybody had even heard of it.

Rotavirus — the killer bug that set off Bill Gates and gave direction to his philanthropy.

“No matter where we looked in the world, about 40 percent of all kids under 5 years old in hospitals for severe and life-threatening diarrhea had rotavirus,” said John Wecker, head of Seattle-based PATH’s vaccine access and delivery program. PATH has a long history advocating for a rotavirus vaccine.

“We’d go into these countries where huge numbers of kids were dying from diarrhea and they’d say ‘Rota what?” Wecker said. “We don’t have that here. Nobody had ever heard of it.”

Today, an international group that represents the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation‘s single largest philanthropic project aimed at expanding children’s vaccinations announced it was launching a major new global jab against rotavirus and another big killer of young children, pneumococcal disease. The campaign focuses on Africa, where these two infectious diseases are rampant.

“The death toll of rotavirus and pneumococcal infections in Africa is particularly devastating, and this is where these vaccines will make the most significant impact, not only in lives saved, but also in terms of healthy lives lived,” said Seth Berkley, CEO of this group known as GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.

It’s a major milestone for GAVI, for a number of reasons, but in a way just another big step forward in a decade of significant progress for this alliance created to expand access to childhood immunizations in poor countries.

Since it was launched, hundreds of millions of children have been vaccinated and an estimated 5 million deaths prevented.

That’s more deaths averted than has so far been credited to the much-larger Global Fund for Fighting AIDS, TB and Malaria — or any other single project in the global health arena, for that matter. Continue reading

Did something that matters happen at the UN global health summit? | 

Tom Paulson

The media covering the media covering President Obama speaking at the UN

The big global health meeting at the United Nations has come and gone I still can’t quite tell if anything actually happened.

Maybe that’s normal, when it comes to how things get done at the UN.

After all, the Obama Administration has said if the UN were to recognize Palestine as a state, it would be “merely symbolic.” And yet they’re still fighting like hell to keep it from happening.

I came to New York to cover a meeting called the UN High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases, which concluded yesterday. This was billed as a historic moment in global health, only the second time the UN has held such a meeting. The last one, in 2001, launched the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria — a massive, if imperfect, effort that has saved millions of lives.

The aim of this week’s special session on global health at the UN General Assembly meeting is potentially even more significant than it may sound.

On the surface, it was a call to expand the already strained global health agenda to include non-infectious killers like cancer, diabetes and heart disease — the NCDs (or non-communicable diseases). That’s a big deal because it adds a lot to the agenda, given that chronic diseases kill more people (about 36 million per year) than AIDS, TB and malaria combined.

But it may be even bigger than that.

If you dig a little deeper here, this is the big — mostly unspoken — question: Is this move to get chronic disease on the agenda actually a move away from the standard disease-oriented approach to global health — and toward a more “systems” approach? Continue reading

Global vaccine alliance appoints AIDS vaccine champ as new CEO | 


Seth Berkley

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, GAVI, has selected Seth Berkley to take over as CEO of the 10-year-old initiative aimed at expanding access to children’s vaccines worldwide.

Berkley, long one of the leading advocates of the search for an AIDS vaccine, inherits both an operation that has been one of the most successful, life-saving efforts ever undertaken in global health and a massive funding shortfall.

His predecessor, Julian Lob-Levyt, announced his resignation after the board learned of the funding shortfall and had concerns about his financial management (and, to some extent, his management style as well. A bit autocratic). Lob-Levyt left GAVI to join a small development management firm called DAI.

The vaccination initiative that Berkley now takes on is the largest single project ever funded by the Gates Foundation, which launched it in 2000. Here’s a story of GAVI’s early days, which I wrote based on a trip to Africa while at the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Continue reading