The development of new vaccines and strengthening of immunization programs rank high among global and African public health priorities. Progress in these areas would contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals, promote global health security and impact on antimicrobial resistance. Nevertheless, there is limited capacity in Africa to conduct research in vaccinology, take informed policy decisions and improve program implementation.
The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) selected African Local Initiative for Vaccinology Expertise (ALIVE) initiative in 2016 as its Flagship research program in a competitive process for a South African National Research Foundation (NRF) initiative awarded to Universities to support the establishment of one interdisciplinary research entity based on outstanding existing research strengths.
The mission of ALIVE is to create African expertise and leadership in vaccinology research and advocacy.
We envision that over the next fifteen years this initiative to strengthen African expertise will enhance immunisation programs in Africa and contribute to reductions in vaccine preventable diseases in the African region. The ALIVE consortium recognises that the greatest need for new vaccines, and improvements in the delivery of vaccines, is in Africa. The gap that exists between current reality and the goals of the Decade of Vaccines will not be bridged unless research capacity is built and innovation is created on the continent that is most in need. The importance of this vision is shared by the University of the Witwatersrand, one of Africa’s foremost tertiary education institutions.
ALIVE will build upon existing relationships and establish strong South-to-South partnerships for its research and training activities. ALIVE will use its breadth of scientific skill together with its expertise in teaching and curriculum development, to develop a postgraduate training program that will include short courses and postgraduate degrees. ALIVE has started as a Wits university-wide, multi-disciplinary partnership of internationally recognized scientists. Over time the consortium will integrate further internal Wits expertise from academic entities with emerging interests in this field, and will also partner with external scientists and policymakers. The ALIVE team envisions that this initiative will become a unique South African and African resource, and will inspire innovation in this important field of vaccinology research spanning basic and clinical sciences, implementation science and public health expertise.
The overall ALIVE program envisages four work streams, including:
1) training and capacity development including a short advanced vaccinology course (Afro-ADVAC), an MSc degree program, and National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) and National Regulatory Authority (NRA) workshops, and thematic scientific and policy meetings;
2) basic and clinical science research to design a vaccine against congenital cytomegalovirus;
3) epidemiology, vaccine development and implementation research to support the development of a Group B streptococcus vaccine and the establishment of a maternal immunization platform; and
4) epidemiology and implementation science to evaluate HPV vaccine impact and develop new adolescent immunization strategies as part of a life cycle approach.
The leadership of the ALIVE consortium play key roles in many local, regional and global vaccine and immunisation structures, and this will allow a seamless dialogue with academic partners, and with policy and programme stakeholders.
Professor Shabir A. Madhi and Professor Helen Rees are the Co-Directors of the ALIVE consortium.They are internationally renowned experts in the vaccine field and are well respected as African immunisation advocates. Their shared expertise in basic science, clinical science, implementation science, epidemiology and vaccine advocacy and policy, is highly complementary and covers the breadth of the work proposed in ALIVE. They serve on the National Advisory Group on Immunisation, and work closely with the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Health in the development of vaccine research priorities and in programme and policy development. In addition, ALIVE’s Co-Chairs serve on global and regional structures of the World Health Organisation, including as expert advisers in the vaccine fields of HIV, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and other sexually transmitted infections including HSV-2; Measles/ rubella, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), Group B streptococcus (GBS), maternal influenza immunisation, polio and Ebola. Prof Rees serves as the Chairperson of the WHO’s African Regional Technical Advisory group on Vaccines and Immunisation.