Dr. Seth Berkley is always running. In the late 1980s, while he worked in Uganda, he jogged up and down every street and path in Entebbe, morning and evening.
Dr. Seth Berkley is always running. In the late 1980s, while he worked in Uganda, he jogged up and down every street and path in Entebbe, morning and evening. Now he is racing against time in the search for an AIDS vaccine.
Berkley, President of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), foresees a world without AIDS. Only a vaccine, he says, will achieve that. He is obsessed with the search for the vaccine. He co-founded IAVI with the mission to speed up the development and distribution of an AIDS vaccine. â€œWe donâ€™t care who succeeds. We just want to make sure it happens,â€ he says.
Berkley is the man who oversees the ongoing vaccine trial in Entebbe. In addition his organisation is supporting or planning vaccine trials in other countries.
â€œWhen Berkley was leaving Uganda he told me he wanted to change from studying figures to doing something that would have a big impact on AIDS. From the way he worked, I knew he meant business,â€ said Paul Kagwa, the assistant commissioner for health education in the Ministry of Health. â€œLater, out of nowhere, I heard he was the president of IAVI. Iâ€™m not surprised. He was the venturing type.â€ Berkley could have worked with any other country, but he chose Uganda. â€œI have an enormous interest in Uganda because it has taken a leadership role in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It is very fitting that Uganda is going to take a bigger role in slowing the epidemic,â€ he says.
In August 2001, Berkley signed an agreement with the Government to enable Uganda and IAVI jointly carry out the trial. The agreement says when a vaccine is discovered, Ugandans would receive it at an affordable cost in the shortest possible time. On July 25, 2003, he returned to Uganda to inaugurate an AIDS vaccine trial complex built by IAVI.
Berkleyâ€™s relentless push for an AIDS vaccine is based on the premise that dreaded epidemics like small pox have been defeated through immunisation.
He adds that science has shown that it is possible to get an AIDS vaccine. But he is not happy that the world has not done enough in the past to get an AIDS vaccine.
â€œToday, 22 years into the epidemic, only one vaccine candidate â€“â€“ only one, has been fully tested to see if it works anywhere in the world. This is a global disgrace,â€ he says.
His advocacy spirit makes him keen on the press. While he was in Entebbe on July 19, a South African journalist asked if he could move to a convenient place for an interview. â€œSure. Iâ€™ll do anything you want except I wonâ€™t dance for you,â€ he answered.
His answers are quick and sharp, then he looks at a journalist as if to invite more questions.
When advocating for an AIDS vaccine he speaks fast, illustrating his points with facts and figures. It is hard to disagree with him. His efforts have yielded some results.
Donors are now committing more money to IAVI to promote AIDS vaccine research. And part of that money has come to Uganda. Now IAVI is funding the AIDS vaccine trial in Uganda and Kenya and is preparing to sponsor another trial in South Africa. So far IAVI has eight vaccines being tested, or about to be tested.
However, it is not all AIDS vaccines in his life. He creates time for love and play. Last year the 45-year-old married a fellow doctor. He enjoys sailing, diving and piloting as a sport.
Berkley has a sense of urgency. He wants an AIDS vaccine within the shortest possible time. His strategy is as follows: Develop many AIDS vaccines quickly, test all of them quickly; definitely some of them will work.
Traditionally the process takes 15 years, but Berkley says the world does not have so much time to wait.
â€œThe first vaccine took 15 years. We want to try and compress that to six years,â€ he says.
He is a champion of parallel rather than sequential vaccine testing. Instead of doing an experiment to see if a vaccine is safe then try another to work out the doses and so on, he says several steps can be done at once. This is the idea behind testing the same vaccine in Kenya, Uganda and Britain at the same time.
Berkley also says that even before a vaccine is discovered, distribution plans have to be made. This will ensure that when a vaccine is finally discovered, villagers do not have to wait for years before they can get it. Every additional day without a vaccine means 15,000 new infections.
â€œThe world desperately needs an AIDS vaccine in the shortest time period possible,â€ he says.
â€œIf we succeed we shall have the opportunity to save hundreds of millions of lives.â€
Doctor Races Against Time For HIV Vaccine