Dr Seth Berkeley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is currently in India and has inked an agreement for $500 million to support India’s immunisation drive.
Berkeley shares his views on the government’s engagement on vaccination and the way forward for India which supplies 60 per cent of the world’s vaccines and yet has the largest number of unimmunised children.
What are the components of this support package to India?
The board has approved an envelope of up to $500 million. Normally it is 75:25, 75 per cent is vaccine support and up to 25 per cent is for strengthening the health system. India has not had new vaccines for a very long time, the first one was Hepatitis B and that took 10 years for full roll-out. Pentavalent was the next one, that took almost four years. Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) has also arrived.
It’s an exciting time to be here. We are hoping in the first quarter, rotavirus vaccine will be launched. Diarrhoea is the biggest killer of children in India followed by pneumonia. Pneumococcal vaccine and rotavirus roll out is also being discussed.
Tell us about your meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
It’s a great opportunity (to work with India) given the level of political commitment. The government is extremely interested in modernisation, digitisation, Make in India and these are some of the topics I discussed with the Prime Minister on Wednesday. Mission Indradhanush is an interesting innovation. It is targetting 201 districts with the lowest coverage in terms of immunisation. However, the test would be continued coverage.
How has the pace of new vaccine introduction accelerated?
One has to think about vaccines carefully. You are also giving it to healthy children so that everyone is covered, so it is expensive. India was really emboldened by the success in polio. When GAVI started we had five suppliers and there was just one for pentavalent.
Today we have 16 suppliers and for pentavalent there are seven suppliers. Of Pentavalent vaccine suppliers, 4-5 are Indian.
What are your views on the government’s fund cuts in the social sector?
I am looking at this government’s activities with one lens. If you look at what has actually been happening, allocation in Budget was high and the spending low.
My understanding, which you will have to validate with the government, is that this year will be a record in spending. Though their budget level was lower, their spending was not below. In fact the spending may even be a little higher.