Anuradha Gupta: The global Covid vaccinator
1 Mar 2021

We talked to Anuradha Gupta, Deputy CEO of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI)

She is a global development leader with a proven track record for transformational impact at both the country and global level. Worked for the Indian Administration Service for over 30 years in a wide range of leadership positions, from health to urban development, poverty alleviation to security. Passionate about women, adolescents and children, in particular their health and education.

There is currently a heated debate around Covid-19 vaccines and many persons are resisting the idea of getting vaccinated. What are your views on this?

I believe the deaths, economic upheaval, uncertainty and anxiety caused by the pandemic will only end with the rapid, fair, and equitable access to Covid vaccines. The real impact of the pandemic will reveal itself in years to come but current analysis is already pointing to unprecedented economic and social disruptions, backsliding on development gains, and widening inequalities.

However, equitable access to efficacious Covid vaccines with their successful deployment can mark the beginning of the end of the crisis. And this needs to be enabled by people’s confidence in the vaccines and reinforcing people’s resilience to false and misleading information.

However, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, and in the era of social media, health information is also increasingly politicised. Misinformation risks undermining public trust in Covid-19 vaccines. The best antidote to misinformation is good information, bringing truth to people and building confidence in the proven science of vaccines. Therefore, timely and transparent public communication strategies tailored to country and local contexts will be essential.

At Gavi, we are engaging with Facebook and other social media platforms to refer users to authoritative sources of information besides reducing distribution of misleading content. However, an important focus of our strategy is to support community-level action to enhance community awareness using channels that people trust such as religious leaders, health providers, faith-based organizations and civil society. Gavi’s partners on the ground, are working with local community and religious leaders as well as community mobilisers to equip communities with verified information to help scotch rumors and spur sustained demand for vaccination services.

The speed with which some pharmaceutical companies have acted to research, develop, test and implement a vaccine has been outstanding. Why has this speed not been applied to other critical pre-pandemic diseases?

Necessity is the mother of invention. The cataclysmic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have tested human ingenuity and enterprise. The level of scientific effort going into the search for Covid-19 vaccines worldwide is truly unprecedented. Thousands of researchers on every continent have been working round the clock to help us get our lives back to normal. There have been some impressive, path breaking collaborations among research institutions, financing organizations, normative agencies and manufacturers that are highly innovative.

Despite the incredible speed at which the Covid-19 vaccines are being developed, it is important to note that from a regulatory and licensure perspective, there is no compromise on safety. Speed is being achieved by making early investments in the scaling up of manufacturing capacity, but not at the expense of the assessment of safety nor post-licensure processes to assure strong ongoing safety monitoring.

Gavi is supporting these efforts by using its strong track record for enabling access to critical vaccines globally. For example, the accelerated development of the Ebola vaccine was possible thanks to a first-of-its-kind agreement between Gavi and the vaccine manufacturer, which set a precedent for incentivising fast-track development and production of vaccines against Covid-19.

What is your message to women who want to get involved in challenging organisations and initiatives like GAVI?

I would strongly encourage women to believe in themselves and their ability to make impact. Women should not fear to dream big or hitch their wagon to a star. Even the thickest glass ceiling can be broken. Covid-19 has again highlighted the leadership mettle of women and their ability to weigh the human implications of decisions. From the highest levels of decision-making to frontline service delivery, women are at the helm of institutions carrying out effective and inclusive Covid-19 response. There is overwhelming evidence that women make organizations more successful and that policies that do not consult women or include them in decision-making are simply less effective and can even do harm.

Gender equality at Gavi has been a key factor of success. This is through a steadfast focus on what I call the 6Rs of Gender equality: Recruitment, renumeration, recognition and rewards, respect, reporting and reinforcement. We now have gender parity in all career levels – including the top leadership positions. We invest in a culture that respects women and provides them opportunities for equal participation and growth. Gavi has received the equal salary certification for the third consecutive year – something we are very proud of.

Despite us being among the top charters on gender equality, as seen in the Global health 50/50 reviews, we continue to push for greater improvements. We are very excited about our next phase of work which would embrace racial diversity and inclusion. 

* Prisca Chaoui is Editor-in-Chief at UN Today. Julián Ginzo is Editorial Coordinator at UN Today.
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