Exclusive Interview with Ambassador Michael W. Marine, CEO of Sabin Vaccine Institute

Ambassador Michael MarineTwo years after the London Declaration on accelerating the fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), global leaders gathered in Paris April 2 this year in a “Conversation on Progress” two years on. Among the leaders at the event held at the Institut Pasteuer, was Ambassador Michael W. Marine, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sabin Vaccine Institute. Ambassador Marine took time off his busy schedule to talk to Musah Ibrahim Musah, Editor at AfricaNewsAnalysis (ANA) on his assessments and vision for the future in the fight against NTDs. Excepts follow:

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Ambassador, what’s your assessment of the “Conversation on Progress” at the Institut Pasteuer?

We had a full day of discussions of various considerations of response to NTDs, but then it was capped by the mega event which involved Bill Gates, Margaret Chan and all the luminaries — and you get a sense of excitement in the entire room. There is real momentum behind the movement to address these diseases from the endemic countries, donors and the NTD stakeholder community. So I will say that it was a very positive event and it sets the real challenges that we need to deal with and move ahead.

So in other words, from the African perspective, do you think African leaders are doing enough to accelerate the fight against NTDs come 2020?

First of all I think it’s a little bit difficult to talk about African leaders collectively; collectively, they’ve spoken in the statements that have been made through the African Union, through the AFRO Regional committees, by Ministers of Health, the political have been stated. Now does that translate into concrete actions in every case? No, not yet. But, more and more, we are seeing these kinds of concrete actions that involve more than just words but actual commitments of resources and people to work with all the interested parties to tackle these problems. For example today, we had a Minister of State for Health from Kenya speak to us about Kenya’s school-based de-worming program. Very exciting, that could wrap-up to reach full coverage of the school children in Kenya, to ensure that they’re being de-wormed. That’s the kind of model that needs to be duplicated in many other countries.

So, Ambassador, despite that where do you see the gaps? In which areas do you think more action is needed?

Well, the fundamental gap remains money. There’s still need for us to identify support to carry out the programs to ensure that the donated drugs — which are there — that the donations are solid; but to ensure that they are been delivered into the mouths of the people who need them. And that money must come from many different sources. There has to be contributions from, in my opinion… from the endemic countries as well as more contributions from donors to bridge the gaps. The community, under the leadership of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, did a review of the resources needed to see, to try and define the definition of what the gap is and the previous number that had been in use was around 300 million a year, it’s been brought down now to 200 million a year by looking at what new inputs have been made and defining what is needed. So we narrowed what we need but we still need to continue to find those resources to fill that gap. But they can’t come from one place; they must come from many.

Ambassador, could you elaborate on what type of new inputs we are talking about?

Well, inputs can be personnel, they can be delegating personnel within the Ministry of Health to run an NTD program that would normally come out of the national Ministry of Health budget. It can be selection of district officers to organize these programs and to take responsibility for them because wherever possible we want these programs to be components of other health interventions. A stand-alone NTD program is very difficult to organize.

Another set of inputs could be through the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC) and the AFRO NTD department, who have the responsibility of providing the technical assistance to the national governments to ensure that their programs are as robust as they can be.

But the United States government, for example, is giving, is committed to give a 100 million dollars this year for NTD treatment programs around the world mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s a major commitment and I applaud it, but it needs to continue and I’d like it to even grow beyond the 100 million. But we need some others of the G8, G20 countries to step up and make investments as well in these kinds of programs.  Just as we need to see the use of more Bank funding that is donated by donor government countries but for the use of member governments, particularly the least developed need to see that money put into more NTDs programs to help us reach our goals of eliminating many of these diseases by 2020.

You mentioned the G8. Have they accelerated their commitments made in 2012 and are they keeping to them?

No, not to my opinion, I think you would say clearly it’s a question of how you list the commitments; how you access the contributions that have been made. For example, when you look at the G8 group of countries, places like France and Germany have invested in NTD research; very important, needs to continue. But is there room for them to do a bit more in NTDs, in providing NTD treatments, or in supporting APOC and its successor, PENDA?  In my opinion the answer is yes. The UK and the US governments have definitely lived up to the commitments they made, but that those contributions need to continue because this is not a one-time, one year fight. This is something that’s going to take the better part of the decade to see through if we are to succeed.

Looking back two years after the London Declaration, Ambassador, what’s your vision for the next two years?

Well, I think that the key to the next two years is to reach the point by the beginning of 2016 that programs have scaled up to reach all the people that need treatment within their countries so that we can maintain that level for the five years to 2020 and thus be at a point where we can stop doing treatments for diseases  like lymphatic filariasis and trachoma. We should be seeing 2016 as the peak year, the year that we’re doing the most treatments of all, and then gradually it would begin to decrease overtime. But right now, we are not at that level that we need to begin that decline. We have to have every program running, we have to be reaching 75% of the people to break the transmission of these diseases. But we’re not there yet, that’s our biggest test, just to get there.

Thank you very much for your time, Ambassador.

Thank you, Musah

About Michael W. Marine, Ambassador (Rtd.)

Chief Executive Officer

Michael W. Marine, former U.S. Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of the Sabin Vaccine Institute on April 28, 2010.

Mr. Marine joined Sabin’s leadership team in December 2009 after serving eight months on the Joint Action Committee of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, an advocacy and resource mobilization initiative of Sabin.
He was a member of the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service for 32 years and served as Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam from September 2004 to August 2007.

Earlier in his Foreign Service career, Mr. Marine was Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassies in Beijing, China, Nairobi, Kenya and Suva, Fiji. He also served in program direction positions in U.S. diplomatic posts in Moscow, Russia, Bonn, Germany and Guangzhou, China.

Mr. Marine enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1967 and completed his service with the rank of Captain in 1971. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1974 with a degree in Asian Studies. He entered the Foreign Service in 1975. His early assignments were as a consular officer in Martinique, French West Indies and London, England, and as a political officer in Hong Kong. He received the State Department’s Superior Honor Award six times.

About Sabin Vaccine Institute

Sabin Vaccine Institute (Sabin) is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization made up of scientists, researchers, and advocates dedicated to reducing needless human suffering from vaccine preventable and neglected tropical diseases. Sabin works with governments, leading public and private organizations, and academic institutions to provide solutions for some of the world’s most pervasive health care challenges.

Since its founding in 1993 in honor of the oral polio vaccine developer, Dr. Albert B. Sabin, the Institute has been at the forefront of efforts to control, treat, and eliminate vaccine preventable and neglected tropical diseases by developing new vaccines, advocating use of existing vaccines, and promoting increased access to affordable medical treatments.

Sabin was founded on the legacy and global vision of one of medicine’s most pre-eminent scientific figures, Dr. Albert B. Sabin, who is best known for developing the oral live virus polio vaccine. Dr. Sabin not only dedicated his entire professional career to groundbreaking medical advancements to reduce human suffering, he also waged a tireless and lifelong campaign against poverty and ignorance.

Sabin works to provide greater access to vaccines and essential treatments for hundreds of millions of people stuck in a cycle of pain, poverty and despair. Sabin’s three main programs – Sabin Vaccine Development, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, and Vaccine Advocacy and Education – strive to uphold Dr. Sabin’s lifelong efforts by developing preventative measures for diseases that place burdens on the world’s poorest countries.

Sabin’s diverse partnerships are key to our efforts to fulfill the organization’s mission. In 2011, the Sabin Product Development Partnership (Sabin PDP) relocated to Houston, Texas to begin a new affiliation with Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH) and Baylor College of Medicine (BCM). The Sabin PDP laboratories are housed in a new, state-of-the-art, 10,000 square-foot facility at TCH, which is part of Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest medical center.

These and other partnerships with groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, governments, academic institutions, scientists, medical professionals, and non-profit organizations are critical in furthering the development of strategies to reduce human suffering from devastating vaccine preventable and neglected tropical diseases.

About NTDs
NTDs are a group of 17 parasitic and bacterial infections that are the most common afflictions of the world’s poorest people. They blind, disable and disfigure their victims, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and disease. Research shows that treating NTDs lifts millions out of poverty by ensuring that children stay in school to learn and prosper; by strengthening worker productivity; and by improving maternal and child health.

About END7

END7 is an international advocacy campaign that seeks to raise the awareness and funding necessary to control and eliminate the seven most common neglected tropical diseases by 2020.  The international effort to control and eliminate NTDs has the support of a diverse group of global partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO), national governments, pharmaceutical companies, corporations and individuals. END7 is run by the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, an initiative of the Sabin Vaccine Institute.

About Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases

The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (Global Network), a major program of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, is an advocacy and resource mobilization initiative dedicated to raising the awareness, political will, and funding necessary to control and eliminate the seven most common neglected tropical diseases (NTDs): soil-transmitted helminths (hookworm, ascariasis, and trichuriasis), onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, trachoma, and lymphatic filariasis.

The vision of the Global Network is a world free of NTDs where children and families are able to grow, learn and become productive members of their communities. We are committed to working with governments, individuals, institutions and corporations globally to make this a reality as we end the neglect.