Remarks by Ambassador Richard Verma at the Vaccine Action Program

(As Prepared for Delivery) 

Thank you Dr. Swaminathan, Dr. VijayRaghavan, Mr. Gray Handley and Dr. Carole Heilman for inviting me to help inaugurate this 28th Joint Working Group meeting of the Indo-US Vaccine Action Program (VAP).  It is an honor to be here.

The United States and India are working together to tackle critical and timely health problems.  When President Obama and Prime Minister Modi speak about a renewed partnership between our countries, they highlight partnerships and cooperation on issues ranging from trade to security, education to health.  Our partnership has provided important opportunities for the US Mission Interagency Team including USAID, CDC and NIH to collaborate with the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Traditional Medicine (AYUSH).

As you all know, the VAP is a remarkable partnership between India and the United States.  It has thrived for nearly 30 years; it has fostered innumerable research partnerships that have advanced infectious disease discovery; it has helped expand research capacity through technology transfer; and, it has fostered the professional development of two generations of scientists in both our countries.  Truly, it is the model of mutually-beneficial collaboration.  And what a pleasure it is to see the VAP move from strength to strength.

We can look back on a long series of accomplishments fostered by the VAP and its partner organizations, the DBT, ICMR and NIAID. [Indian Department of Biotechnology (DBT), the Department of Health Research/ Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), and the United States’ National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)].  VAP’s focus has been on both basic and applied research targeting a wide range of infectious diseases where the development of safe, cost-effective vaccines will save innumerable lives worldwide.

Most recently, the VAP achieved a major success, nurturing a public-private partnership to developROTAVAC, India’s first indigenous rotavirus vaccine.  We were all extremely pleased to see this vaccine launched into the Indian market by Prime Minister Modi in March of last year, and to have it be a focus of the Indo-U.S. summit meeting.  The defining characteristics of this collaboration have been openness, collegiality and shared ownership.  How gratifying it is that this effort has resulted in a new vaccine expected to save 80,000 children in India each year and many more in other parts of the world.  Moving forward, let’s make this remarkable achievement a model for our joint efforts to develop and test vaccines against other major diseases such as dengue, RSV and chikungunya.

Some of the priority areas of health cooperation between India and the United States involve TB, Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) – an emerging global problem, and Dengue, which affects people in India and the Americas.  It is gratifying to see that the VAP promotes scientific collaboration in all these areas.

We all know that TB – particularly drug-resistant TB – poses a nearly unprecedented global health challenge.  I have been very pleased to learn that the VAP supports an ambitious approach to enhance TB research through its RePORT-India [which stands for India’s Regional Prospective Observational Cohort] project, with the aim to develop important biomarkers for TB and to establish multi-site clinical trial research capacity.

I understand that WHO has cited this $12 million TB research collaboration as a model of global excellence.  It is gratifying to see that it involves multiple investigators and institutions in India and the U.S.; shared oversight and funding from DBT, ICMR and NIH; and a vision of cooperation with similar networks being established in Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and other countries.  I congratulate you all on India’s leadership in the RePORT initiative and on its vision and approach.  It will be exciting to see the contributions RePORT-India makes in the future as we all seek to better understand, prevent, treat and control tuberculosis.

To tackle the global health problem of anti-microbial resistance (AMR), which makes usually curable infections become life-threatening challenges, the VAP partner institutions already have signed a new agreement focused on AMR research and our scientists have begun to identify opportunities for research cooperation.     I commend VAP for taking such rapid action on such an important area of public health concern.  I trust the urgent need for AMR research will continue to make this a high priority for the VAP, now and in years to come.

In conclusion, I commend the VAP for its remarkable past achievements and for a promising future that is being revitalized through a shared commitment to several very important initiatives.  These initiatives will require joint leadership and reliable co-funding from both our countries.  The U.S. is prepared to meet these challenges and we trust that DBT and ICMR also are committed to providing the expertise and financial resources necessary to fulfill VAP’s promise.

As you all know, our President and your Prime Minister acknowledged the special importance of the VAP during their meetings in Washington in 2014 and in New Delhi in 2015.  In 2016 and in future years, it is up to us to continue to demonstrate the value and promise of the program.  I wish you all a productive meeting and look forward to hearing its outcome.

Thank you very much.