Seth Berkley 2013


Seth Berkley was born in New York in 1956 and even growing up in the big city - became interested in science. When he was just nine years old, he helped at a retail chemistry supply store, the Winn Chemical Company, which supported both hobbyists and scientists. He was too young to be paid, but was allowed to take home chemicals and scientific supplies.

From those humble beginnings, he moved on to a combined undergraduate and medical programme at Brown University. While at university, he had the opportunity to work in a ghetto clinic in Jackson, Mississippi, study tropical medicine in Brazil and take his first African trip to Senegal. Those experiences shifted his interest from clinical medicine to public health, from the domestic to the global.

From early in his career, Seth has dedicated himself to fighting suffering around the world. After graduating, he trained in primary care internal medicine at the Boston Harvard-Beth Israel Hospital programme, where he had the opportunity to work at the Harvard Community Health Plan. After he finished his residency, he joined the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where he worked in the bacterial special pathogens branch.  After his two years at CDC, he did a preventive medicine residency and spent a year at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which was running one of the two remaining state health departments producing vaccines and biologics.  Here, he began some of his first vaccine related public health work.

At this time, Sudan was in the grip of a terrible famine, and the US Department of State sent him to provide an epidemiologic evaluation of the crisis. In 1984, the Rockefeller Foundation convened the critical agencies and launched a Task Force to expand immunizations, laying the basis for the 1990 Universal Childhood Immunization goal. The Task Force sent him to Uganda in 1987 as the leader of a small team to serve inside the Ministry of Health, assisting in rebuilding the health system of Uganda through working on surveillance, health information systems, and social mobilisation for immunisation. Under his leadership, the team set up what turned out to be the first systematic AIDS surveillance system in an African country, did the analysis of the first national HIV sero-survey to validate the surveillance, and supported the establishment of the AIDS control programme.  In 1996, he founded the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, the first product development public/private partnership that he led for 15 years, which developed and tested HIV vaccines designed for developing countries. 

Dr Berkley is an Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Brown University and New York University and an Adjunct Professor of Public Health at Columbia University. He sits on a number of corporate and NGO boards and is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations. Dr Berkley has been featured on the cover of Newsweek and recognized by Time Magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World”; as well as by Wired magazine as among “the Wired 25”, a salute to dreamers, inventors, mavericks and leaders. He now leads the GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership that brings new vaccines to people in the poorest countries and has immunised an additional 370 million children and helped avert more than 5.5 million child deaths in its short history. It is his conviction that an AIDS vaccine is indeed possible and it is only a question of when.

In recognition of his globally recognised contribution to advancing the frontiers of scholarly knowledge through scientific research and social engagement, specifically in the field of public health, advancing the achievement of the right to adequate healthcare for all, it is an honour for Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University to confer the degree Doctor of Philosophy (honoris causa) on Dr Seth Franklin Berkley.