The BMI Prize 2021 Awarding
Oct 17, 2021
For outstanding achievements in the fight against the Covid-19 Pandemic to Dr. John N. Nkengasong, Director, CDC Africa
The main points brought up by the speakers at the 2021 Mints Prize
Prof. Ariel Porat, President of Tel-Aviv University
Founded six years ago to develop public policy solutions to global challenges, the Boris Mints Institute has recruited multiple leading research teams and formed an extensive number of collaborations with leading international partners. Dr. Boris Mints himself has demonstrated a remarkable pioneering and forward-looking approach to academic research; although he emphasizes innovative research, he selects the research that has a real-world impact on the largest number of people. Every year, the prize is awarded to an outstanding researcher whose academic work and public action have significantly impacted contemporary global challenges. This year is no exception as the prize is presented to Dr. John N. Nkengasong for his successful and outstanding efforts to combat the pandemic in Africa.
Prof. Silvia Koton, Chair of the 2021 BMI Prize Evaluation Committee, Head of the Herczeg Institute on Aging, Tel Aviv University
John N. Nkengasong has made significant and extraordinary contributions to the management of the Covid-19 pandemic; his influence on global policy is undeniable. His combination of a solid academic background and management capabilities helped him stand out from the crowd. Immediately after the first cases of covid, two articles were published by Dr. Nkengasong on the dangers and strategy of the pandemic. Parallel, He led the African Union and African Centre for Disease Control, with incredible efforts to speed up the vaccine rollout and increase well-trained professionals. A unanimous decision was made to award the prize to Dr. Nkengasong because his work has saved thousands of lives in Africa.
Dr. Boris Mints, President and Founder of BMI
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen!
It is my pleasure to welcome you to the fifth annual BMI Prize ceremony. Today, like last year, we are doing the ceremony online; however, I hope that next year with the effort put forth by Public Health professionals, we will be able to conduct this in person. I would like to thank Prof. Itai Sened, Head of BMI, and the Institute’s incredible team for putting together this event. Furthermore, I want to extend my gratitude to the 2021 Prize Committee Members – Prof. Sylvia Koton, Prof. Joseph Coresh, and Prof. Sabina Alkire, BMI 2020 Prize Laureate, as well as all those who have submitted their applications for the award. With that in mind, I would like to congratulate The 2021 BMI Prize laureate, Dr. John N. Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The prize is awarded to Dr. Nkengasong for his substantial efforts in the management of the pandemic; his public action focused on practical and applicable solutions to this immense challenge and his impact on global policy. Dr. Nkengasong’s academic research focused on HIV and its characteristics in Africa and COVID-19 in Africa. He has published over 250 peer-reviewed articles and received many international awards and recognitions for his outstanding work. At the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Nkengasong had convened an emergency meeting of all 55 Ministers of Health of the African Union to discuss and adopt a Joint Continental Strategy for COVID-19 Outbreak, which emphasized the need for the states across the continent to cooperate, collaborate, coordinate and communicate for an effective response to COVID-19 across Africa. He led the African Union and the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to launch the Partnership to Accelerate COVID-19 Testing, which has increased testing across Africa to more than 90 million test kits. He also led the organization to establish the Africa Pathogen Genomics Initiative and, in partnership with the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Africa, he established a network for SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance to learn which variants circulate in Africa. He is extremely active in the efforts to accelerate access to vaccines around the continent. Dr. Nkengasong holds a long-term vision for a “New Public Health Order for Africa,” which he has laid out at the founding of Africa’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I am convinced that Dr. Nkengasong’s leadership and commitment have substantially helped save many lives in Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic and assisted international efforts to control the pandemic. I would like to express my gratitude to Dr. Nkengasong for his invaluable achievements and congratulate him on extending the line of outstanding academics who have received the BMI Prize. Thank you!”
Prof. Itai Sened, Head of BMI, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, TAU
By receiving the 2021 BMI Prize, Dr. John N. Nkengasong just became part of the global BMI family, alongside other remarkable leaders who have been awarded the Prize, which all have been bringing very fruitful collaborations with the Institute. BMI has been active in Africa since its creation and awarded the prize to Dr. Nkengasong with a possibility of a future collaboration is a crucial step towards extending that furtherת this is an excellent opportunity to do work in Africa a lot more.
Dr. John N. Nkengasong, Director of the African Centre for Disease Control, recipient of the 2021 BMI Prize
It is an honor and pleasure to accept the prize. It empowers the ability to stay up and fight the pandemic and other epidemics that Africa is facing. The pace of disease spread worldwide has been rising, and the Covid pandemic has broken all previous ‘records.’ The African Union Centre for Disease Control response meeting of 22.02.2020 – remained a guiding principle to fight the pandemic. Currently, 8.4 million cases have been reported in Africa officially; however, the real numbers are higher. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 215,000 people have lost their lives due to the pandemic. Africa has gone through three waves of the pandemic, with the third being the most devastating, which speaks to the brutality of the virus. The continent is flattening the curve of the third wave; however, some started to experience the fourth wave. Each new wave exponentially increases the brutality and the severity of the pandemic both from the public health and economic standpoints. The driving force behind the waves is the more contagious variants such as Delta. Fifty-two countries have supported sequencing initiatives of the CDC. 244 Covid genomes have been sequenced in Africa, and in the past half-year, the sequencing number has multiplied 10x. As of September 2021, most infections are driven by the Delta variant, so vaccinations are crucial. There is a need for a collaborative effort in intensifying public health and social measures against covid.
Regarding Covid-19 testing, there was no diagnostic capability in January 2020, but by August 2020, all African states possessed diagnostic capabilities, the strength of which has been increasing ever since. Africa needed to be let into the market for Covid-19 diagnostics, and the situation has been improving very much. The number of cases has been declining, while the testing efforts have been on the rise, including PCR, antigen, and swab tests. While the testing is increasing, there is a need for decentralization, strengthening the RT-PCR testing across the continent.
The African Union’s target for vaccinating the continent has been 60%, which requires 1.6 billion doses. As of right now, there is a 3% access gap, however, programs such as COVAX and AVATT have secured vaccines for 57% of the total population. 27 countries have received vaccines so far. However, the problem is not about vaccine hesitancy – the problem is the access to vaccines and their distribution. With the 206 million doses supplied, 166 million doses have been administered, equating to 80%, with the 20% remaining being a distribution problem. As of right now, 7.5% of the total population has been fully vaccinated. As a continent, Africa is facing inequality, being very behind the 60% goal. History must not repeat itself, which means that there needs to be global solidarity and cooperation. ‘Vaccine Nationalism’ that occurred in 2009 during the flu pandemic still exists nowadays, posing a significant challenge to countries at a disadvantage. Africa needs its vaccine production capabilities, having imported 99% of the vaccines. Africa CDC has launched the Partnership for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM). By 2040 the CDC hopes to manufacture 60% of the vaccines compared to 1% right now. There should be regional hubs in all parts of Africa to complete R&D and manufacturing so that no country is left behind. The 4th wave is here, and we should anticipate more countries to experience it. There is an urgent need to re-imagine Africa’s public health system, as diseases have been causing 227M years of healthy life lost per year on the continent. Every 10 years, Africa needs to deal with a new disease, showing a need for a new public health order.