Acceptance Speech by Dr. Peter Piot

 Their Majesties the Emperor and the Empress, Your Excellency Prime Minister Abe, Your Excellency the President of Ghana, Your Excellencies Heads of State and Government, Distinguished Guests, Dear Friends, I am deeply honoured to receive the Second Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize for Medical Research...

 I am grateful to the Government of Japan and to the Selection Committee for the confidence in me and for the appreciation of my research, and to Professor Kihari Masahiro of Kyoto University for nominating me.

 This is also an opportunity to thank the Japanese people for their generosity in supporting global health, in particular through the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, which was conceived at the G8 Summit in Kyushu/Okinawa in 2000, and confirmed at the Abuja Summit of the OAU in April 2001. I am confident that the Fund will continue to save millions of lives under its new dynamic Executive Director Mark Dybul who is with us this evening.

 I have been very fortunate to benefit from the support, hard work, inspiration and friendship of the hundreds of scientists, community workers, activists, officials and political leaders from all over the world whom I collaborated with while conducting my research, and later as Executive Director of UNAIDS. For me they are part of this Prize. The index of my memoir "No Time to Lose" only contains the names of people, since science and public health today represent the collective efforts of individuals globally. I am happy to see some of them here, including several African leaders I had the privilege to work with.

 It is also wonderful to see four previous and present bosses: Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, under which I served as one of his Under Secretaries-General; African Union Commission Chairperson Dr Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma, who was the second chair of the UNAIDS Board; Dr Tachi Yamada, when I was a Senior Fellow at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Sir Tim Lankester, Chair of Council of my current employer the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

 Above all, I would like to thank my family for their unfailing support and love. What were exciting developments in my life meant sometimes great turbulence in their lives. I am particularly happy that my wife Heidi can share this moment of celebration.

 It is humbling to be in the steps of the first recipient of the Prize, my good friend and colleague Sir Brian Greenwood. The pleasure to be awarded the Second Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize is doubled as my dear friend and comrade in the struggle against AIDS in Africa, Dr Alex Coutinho, is my co-laureate. I could not have dreamed a better partner in receiving this prestigious Award.

Earlier this month my wife and I visited the Hideyo Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research in Accra, not far from the place where Dr Noguchi died 85 years ago from yellow fever while studying the disease. We could see the outstanding work of the Institute, which deserves the support of all of us, and is a continuing tribute to Dr Noguchi 's legacy.

 That visit made it clear to me that Dr Noguchi was one of the early "global" scientists. Today, science as a whole has become a truly global enterprise and community, with 24-hour interactions across the globe. The "united nations" are a reality for every scientist, as I daily witness as Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, where we have students and alumni from nearly every country in the world, including many from Japan.

 It is not difficult to see why Dr Noguchi continues to inspire young people and scientists. He uniquely combined scientific curiosity, world class excellence, global citizenship and unfailing commitment to translate his research to benefit the most vulnerable people and nations.

 When I was nearing the end of my medical education in 1973, the verdict of my professors at the University of Ghent was firm: "There is no future in infectious diseases. Don’t we have effective antibiotics and vaccines, and good hygiene?"  But being a bit stubborn, and already fascinated by microbes, epidemics, vaccines, and the challenges of health in Africa, I ignored my professors' advice, and immersed myself into microbiology and infectious diseases. It turned out to be an adventure for life.

 Four years later, at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in my native Belgium, our team isolated the Ebola virus. Another five years later, AIDS emerged as the largest epidemic of our time. For many years it took over my life - first studying its epidemiology and virology, mostly in Africa, and then trying to mobilise the world against AIDS. These were not only years of excitement around scientific discovery, gratification of caring for patients, and political breakthroughs, but also a journey of self discovery.

 As Dr Noguchi once said, "As long as we human beings exist..., we have to live with diseases caused by ... microbes." The reality is that new viruses and untreatable bacterial infections will continue to emerge, while at the same time millions are still dying from known infectious diseases, which we can perfectly prevent with vaccines or treat. 

 Today the world is confronted with a new influenza virus called "H7N9" emerging in China, and, in the Middle East and Europe, with a new variant of the corona virus which caused SARS ten years ago. Infectious diseases are indeed not over.

 It seems that Louis Pasteur, another giant in microbiology, was right when he said over a century ago at the French Academy of Sciences, “Messieurs, les bacteries auront le dernier mot!" - "Gentlemen (because there were no women in the Academy in these days...), bacteria will always have the last word!" However I trust he will be wrong on polio, as we may be finally reaching eradication of this devastating disease.

 Thanks to a unique synergy between science, leadership, money, and programmes on the ground, we have made real progress in the fight against AIDS. Fewer people are dying and fewer become infected with HIV. The global AIDS response also dramatically illustrates the limitations as well as triumphs of science, with the development of life saving antiretroviral medication, alongside the failure to find a vaccine, and challenges of changing human behaviour.

 The reality is that last year 1.7 million people still died from AIDS and some countries are experiencing a resurgence of HIV infections. AIDS is far from being over, and its end is not at all in sight!

 I am deeply concerned about growing complacency on AIDS. This is even more unacceptable since we have better technical and financial tools than ever to bring down the AIDS epidemic to much lower levels. I know I can count on your strong leadership and support for many years to come, as it is needed more than ever.

 Finally, I believe that most of sub-Saharan Africa is on an upward trajectory. Now is the time to seriously invest in higher education, research and innovation in Africa. With growing economies and plenty of natural resources, the unprecedented spread of communication technology, and above all a growing and massive young work force, the continent needs far more highly skilled people, original solutions to its challenges, and a firm place in the global knowledge economy.

 As a modest contribution, I will use Prize money to offer opportunities to young African scientists to study in London and in Nagasaki. May Dr. Noguchi's spirit of scientific discovery and social justice remain alive and well! Arigato Gozaimashita.