Soumya Swaminathan

Chief Scientist, World Health Organization

    Dr Soumya Swaminathan was appointed WHO’s first Chief Scientist in March 2019. A paediatrician from India and a globally recognized researcher on tuberculosis and HIV, she brings with her 30 years of experience in clinical care and research and has worked throughout her career to translate research into impactful programmes. Dr Swaminathan was Secretary to the Government of India for Health Research and Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research from 2015 to 2017. In that position, she focused on bringing science and evidence into health policy making, building research capacity in Indian medical schools and forging south-south partnerships in health sciences. From 2009 to 2011, she also served as Coordinator of the UNICEF/UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases in Geneva.  She received her academic training in India, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, and has published more than 350 peer-reviewed publications and book chapters. She is an elected Foreign Fellow of the US National Academy of Medicine and a Fellow of all three science academies in India. The Science division’s role is to ensure that WHO stays ahead of the curve and leverages advances in science and technology for public health and clinical care, as well as ensuring that the norms, standards and guidelines produced by WHO are scientifically excellent, relevant and timely. Her vision is to ensure that WHO is at the cutting edge of science and is able to translate new knowledge into meaningful impact on population health worldwide.

    5:20pm – 6:20pm EAT

    Tuesday, 9 March 2021 Day 2

    High-level Roundtable

    COVID-19 Vaccines and Africa: Where do we stand in the race for vaccines?

    Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the vaccine innovation pipeline has advanced at an unprecedented pace – from research and development, to approval, manufacturing and delivery. Despite this remarkable progress – and despite global calls for vaccine equity – access to COVID-19 vaccines in Africa remains limited and presents a barrier to bringing the pandemic under control. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s Director-General, has warned of a “catastrophic moral failure” as many wealthy countries are reserving enough doses to immunize their populations multiple times over, while low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) struggle to acquire COVID-19 vaccines.

    COVAX (the global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries, co-led by WHO, Gavi and CEPI) is currently on track to deliver at least 2 billion doses globally by the end of the year, and is expected to provide 600 million doses for about 20% of populations in African countries. In addition, the African Union’s vaccine acquisition task force has secured 270 million COVID-19 vaccines for African countries. While these initiatives are critical to expediting vaccine equity and access in Africa, they do not present long-term solutions to solve the access gap.

    COVID-19 vaccines must be available to everyone, everywhere – not only those who can afford to pay. This high-level panel discussion will highlight the latest developments around access to COVID-19 vaccines in Africa, including the role of COVAX and the leadership of the African Union, alongside key partners such as WHO, Gavi and CEPI. Featuring African and global health leaders, the panel will address challenges around the availability, affordability and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa, as well as the need for greater collaboration and scale-up of innovations to close the access gap between Africa and the rest of the world.