icddr,b ED receives ‘Prince Mahidol Award 2018’ for cholera vaccine development

Dhaka, 07 February 2019 - icddr,b’s Executive Director and noted scientist Professor John D Clemens has received the prestigious Prince Mahidol Award 2018 for his public health contribution in developing the oral cholera vaccine and its advancement worldwide.

Professor Jan R Holmgren of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, is the co-winner of the award, which is a leading recognition for public health innovation globally and is named after Prince Mahidol of Songkla who is regarded as the ‘father of modern medicine and public health in Thailand’.

Professor Clemens and Professor Holmgren, have long been associated with icddr,b and spent over 30 years of their scientific careers creating the solution. Nominated by a jury board for the award in November last year, they were ceremonially presented in Bangkok, Thailand, last week.

Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, President of Prince Mahidol Foundation, officially handed over the award for their extraordinary contribution to the introduction of the safe, effective, affordable and internationally licensed oral cholera vaccine (OCV). icddr,b’s Deputy Executive Director Syed Monjurul Islam, Bangladesh's Ambassador to Thailand Md. Nazmul Quaunine, among other dignitaries, were present at the ceremony held at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

The OCV was recently administered among the forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals (FDMNs) who have taken shelter in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. icddr,b along with its partners pre-emptively administered a total of one million doses of OCV among the Rohingyas who have fled into Bangladesh in order to avoid persecution in neighbouring Myanmar. It is considered as the world’s second largest OCV campaign in recent history. Public health experts suggest that this might have  prevented a potential epidemic of cholera in the Rohingyas.

In the 1980s, Prof Holmgren and colleagues at the University of Gothenburg developed the first OCV Dukoral. In 1985, Prof Clemens conducted the first OCV field trial in Matlab, Bangladesh, and has shown that the vaccine is safe and effective for up to three years. The findings helped to achieve the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) prequalification and international licensure of the vaccine in 50 countries.

A large cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2010 awakened the public health community to the need for oral cholera vaccines to prevent outbreaks. In 2010, the WHO recommended the use of OCVs in epidemic and endemic circumstances that led to the creation of a global OCV stockpile in 2013. From then until now more than 36 million OCV doses have been dispensed from the global stockpile to control cholera in 100 campaigns across 20 countries.

icddr,b and Prof Clemens are now coordinating the transfer of the production technology to local Incepta Pharmaceuticals in order to meet the low-cost cholera vaccine demands in Bangladesh, one of the highest cholera-burden countries, and beyond.

Upon receiving the award Prof Clemens expressed his deep gratitude to icddr,b and Bangladesh and said “Bangladesh has played a very crucial role in the development of the OCV.” He adds: “The Prince Mahidol Award creates more recognition of the effectiveness of OCVs and will further our campaign to save millions of lives in resource poor settings”. He said mass scale immunisation covering at least 60 percent of a population can effectively provide protection to the entire community. “We expect OCV to be instrumental in the WHO’s roadmap to end cholera by 2030.”

The Prince Mahidol Foundation annually confers awards to individual(s) or institution(s) that have demonstrated outstanding and exemplary contributions to the advancement of the world’s medical and public health services. Each award consists of a medal, a certificate and a sum of US $100,000. Professor Clemens and Professor Holmgren are the seventh and eighth scientists associated with icddr,b to have won the award.