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Service to Society: 2007 Honoree Highlights

Seth Berkley ’78, ’81 MD || Derek Ellerman ’02 and Katherine Chon ’02

William Rogers Award

Seth Berkley ’78, ’81 MD

Seth Berkley photoHaving graduated from Brown Medical School in 1981, Seth went on to complete an internship in internal medicine at Harvard Medical School. Early in his career as a medical epidemiologist, while on the staff of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Seth conducted an influential study of the Toxic Shock Syndrome and determined the cause of Brazilian Purpuric Fever, a disease fatal to children. Seth continued to focus on disease surveillance and disease outbreaks in a subsequent position at the Massachusetts Department of Health.

In 1987, while working in Uganda as an epidemiologist for the Carter Presidential Center, Seth witnessed the consequences of AIDS for the first time.Seth immediately recognized this devastating and perplexing disease as the“Black Plague” of the 20th and 21st centuries. In that contest, Seth created and helped manage a Ugandan surveillance system for HIV/AIDS and helped form an AIDS clinical case definition for the African continent.

Returning from two years in Africa, Seth became a program scientist at the Rockefeller Foundation, where he developed several public health training programs, including one designed to support non-governmental organizations focusing on AIDS. Seth soon became assistant director and then associate director of health sciences at the Foundation, overseeing public health programs in 30 countries. His awareness of the urgency inherent in the global threat of HIV/AIDS led Seth to create what he dubbed a “social venture capital” firm investing in promising AIDS vaccine research and fast-tracking these vaccines through product development and human testing.

This organization, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, or IAVI began as a global enterprise, with offices in the United States and Europe. It was global in another sense, as well, in that it crossed institutional lines to engage public and private stakeholders in the effort to generate a vaccine. Combining funds from national governments and private investors, Seth has created an innovative 21st-century prototype for investment in research. Indeed, in 2000, President Clinton called IAVI “a model public-private partnership.”

The geographic reach and influence of IAVI have expanded dramatically since its founding, with research and development programs now under way in nations around the world, including China, India, Rwanda, and Zambia. Over 30 experimental vaccines are currently being tested in more than 24 countries, in several cases with direct sponsorship from IAVI. Seth has argued passionately that an AIDS vaccine for the poorest countries is an international public good and that the public and private sectors must break the logjam and ensure that a successful vaccine will be made available in developing countries at a reasonable price.

When clinical trials of an experimental vaccine were halted by Merck & Co. last month, Seth wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the news must not “slow progress toward developing a vaccine, which remains our best hope of reversing the epidemic.” “In science,” Seth wrote, “failure is a teacher.” The end of the Merck trial signaled a new direction and the pursuit of “alternative approaches,” and not the end of the effort. “Now” Seth insists “is precisely the time to do more.”

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John Hope Award for Public Service

Derek Ellerman ’02 and Katherine Chon ’02

Ellerman & Chon photoShortly after 9/11 and sparked by conversations about slavery and human rights, Derek Ellerman and Katherine Chon began researching the issue of human trafficking. They quickly learned of the trafficking of Korean women in massage parlors here in Providence. They poured themselves into research, the launch of a website, and the creation of a business plan for what would become the Polaris Project.

Since then, Katherine and Derek have testified before Congress, helped states draft legislation, trained 123 leadership fellows from a dozen countries, and set up offices and chapters around the US and in Japan. They’ve also worked to assist victims of trafficking directly through the creation of efforts like the Greater D.C. Trafficking Intervention program, which provides shelter, clothing, and other assistance to victims.

The U.S. government estimates that each year as many as 800,000 people around the world are enslaved as laborers or sex workers—15,000 of them in the United States. This isn’t something that just happens far away, in other people’s countries or other people’s neighborhoods. Brown thanks and honors Derek and Katherine for their single-minded commitment to human rights.

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