SEOUL--In a historic development in the field of global public health and vaccines, the International Vaccine Institute (IVI), an international organization devoted to new vaccines for developing countries, has inaugurated its new headquarters building in the Republic of Korea (ROK).
President Roh Moo-hyun of ROK presented a plaque to transfer the building and facilities to Prof. Samuel Katz, chairman of the IVI Board of Trustees, during an official ceremony held at the new IVI headquarters in Seoul on October 28.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by some 200 people, including ranking officials with the Korean government, and leaders of the Korean science community, as well as ambassadors from countries that signed the IVI´s Establishment Agreement, and representatives of the IVI and other international organizations.
The new headquarters building, valued at some $150 million, illustrates Korea´s strong commitment to support developing countries. Korea has achieved dynamic economic growth thanks in part to the help it received from the international community during and after the Korean War. As an economic powerhouse, Korea now seeks to play its part for the world by supporting the humanitarian mission and activities of the IVI to help save millions of children who suffer from diseases.
Located on the campus of Seoul National University, the new headquarters building comes with six stories, and has a floor space of 19,668 square meters (211,713 sq. ft). The headquarters complex, built on property measuring 16,982 square meters (182,794 sq. ft), includes state-of-the-art laboratories, animal facilities and conference rooms. A vaccine pilot plant is annexed to the main building. In addition to the headquarters facilities, the Korean government provides a portion of the IVI´s annual operating budget.
"The generous support of the ROK has enabled the IVI to institute programs of research in more than 20 developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, as well as in Korea itself," said Prof. Katz, Emeritus Professor of Pediatrics at Duke University in the United States. "The opening of the IVI´s laboratories will help the IVI strengthen its existing programs by developing a laboratory research and technical assistance program aligned to its vision."
The inauguration of the Headquarters building constitutes a watershed event for the IVI, as it will give the Institute the facilities needed to achieve its full potential in laboratory-based research, vaccine development, and technical assistance to developing countries.
Prof. Barry Bloom, Dean of Harvard School of Public Health and the founding chairman of the IVI Board of Trustees, said "This new building, with its state-of-the-art laboratories, is allowing the IVI to complement its country programs with groundbreaking laboratory research in Seoul focusing in the accelerated development of vaccines for the poor."
"Indeed, although our laboratory program in this building is less than a year old, IVI´s energetic laboratory scientists have already made significant progress in the development of new vaccines against Shigella dysentery and cholera, diseases of poverty that claim the lives of over 1 million children each year." said Dr. John Clemens, director of the IVI. "Korea deserves a huge amount of credit for its contribution to the world through the IVI. The IVI, the first international organization to be headquartered in Korea, is truly Korea´s gift to the world´s children."
Despite the extraordinary advances in medicine, infectious diseases are still responsible for around a third of all deaths, killing at least 10 million people a year, including more than 5 million children under five. Poverty begets illness, which in turn aggravates poverty. Recent studies have shown that the economic costs of diseases in the poorest countries can run into hundreds of billions of dollars a year in lost GNP. "Immunization, together with other cost-effective health interventions, can help break that vicious cycle," Prof. Katz said. "Immunization can help reverse that trend."
The birth of the IVI dates back to 1990 at the United Nations. Leaders of 77 countries adopted a declaration calling for concerted efforts to promote children´s health during the World Summit on Children in 1990. In 1993, the United Nations Development Program decided to establish the IVI, for which Korea became the host after competing with six nations of Asia in 1994. The IVI was established in 1997 as the world´s only international research organization devoted solely to accelerating the development and introduction of new vaccines for children in developing countries.
The IVI, now an autonomous and independent organization, is supported by many donors from both the private and public sectors. Major donors include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has given some $95 million in research grants to the institute, the governments of Korea, Australia, Japan, Sweden, and a number of other foundations and private enterprises.
Currently, 35 countries and the World Health Organization are signatories to the IVI´s Establishment Agreement. With some 96 staff from 17 countries, the Institute has launched over 100 field vaccine research projects in 21 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. These projects are helping to introduce vaccines against killer diseases such as diarrhea, pneumonia and dengue into programs for the poor. These vaccines could prevent up to 5 million childhood deaths each year.
In the coming years, the IVI is hoping to expand its scope of research to additional countries in Asia, including North Korea, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, where many people are living in severe poverty. The institute is focusing its activities on four major areas: translational research in the field to find crucial evidence needed for accelerated introduction of new life-saving vaccines in developing countries; laboratory research to develop safer and more effective vaccines against diseases of the poor; technical assistance programs for developing country vaccine manufacturers; and education and training programs in vaccinology for developing country scientists.