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How Emmanuel Mugisha advances immunization

September 15, 2021 by David Verga

This public health professional uses soft skills and technical expertise to break down silos and deliver results.

Emmanuel Mugisha is PATH’s director of the Typhoid Vaccine Acceleration Consortium and a senior technical advisor for immunizations. Photo: PATH/Will Boase.

Emmanuel Mugisha is PATH’s director of the Typhoid Vaccine Acceleration Consortium and a senior technical advisor for immunizations. Photo: PATH/Will Boase.

This story is part of our ongoing “People of PATH” series, in which we highlight a team member who’s moving humanity forward.

Emmanuel Mugisha, PhD, MPH, is a lighthearted man doing very serious work. He’s spent his career supporting the development and introduction of lifesaving vaccines—first in his home country of Uganda, now in countries across Africa and Asia.

Though he is a technical expert with decades of experience and graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins and the University of South Africa, his soft skills are also central to his impact. Quick with a joke and a smile, Emmanuel knows how to build trust and bring people together.

When it comes to introducing vaccines, he’ll tell you that trust and collaboration are everything.

Build trust, break silos

Emmanuel began developing his inclusive approach early in his career, while coordinating a series of Phase 1 clinical trials for vaccines against HIV—at the time, Uganda’s first-ever vaccine trials.

“Science can be so closed off,” Emmanuel says laughing. “Historically, research scientists haven’t wanted to speak to outsiders. They just want to develop a drug or a vaccine and say, ‘Now we have a product for this or a cure for that.’ I wanted everyone to understand exactly what we were researching, how it worked, and how it could help.”

“I wanted everyone to understand exactly what we were researching, how it worked, and how it could help.”

To build trust and break down silos, Emmanuel began developing local networks to raise awareness and understanding of the HIV vaccine trials and candidates. He created think tanks to bring together scientists from different sectors (not just those working in HIV). He formed advisory groups for community leaders, ministry officials, and journalists, as well as general interest groups for care providers.

Then he connected those groups directly to the scientists running the trials so they could understand the research, ask relevant questions, and influence the process where necessary. He even started newsletters to keep the general public informed and brought together other organizations involved in clinical trials to ensure harmonized approaches where possible.

“Those HIV vaccine trials did not result in a viable candidate, but the networks and partnerships we developed along the way were so important,” Emmanuel says. “Over the years, I’d become friends with all these professionals and ministry officials. I’d earned their trust as a partner in vaccine research. These networks—and the approaches I’d used to build them—gave me a template for other vaccine efforts later in my career.”

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Scaling the process

After those early HIV vaccine trials, Emmanuel continued his work advancing immunization by joining PATH to lead the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine introduction. While serving as PATH’s Uganda country manager from 2006 to 2013, Emmanuel led the country’s introduction and scale-up of HPV vaccine.

“For the HPV vaccine, I already knew how to create and manage networks and relationships,” Emmanuel says. “I followed the same basic process as I had for the HIV vaccine trials, but for the HPV vaccine introduction, I needed the support of the national immunization program, and of various specialists not traditionally involved in vaccines—such as oncologists and reproductive health teams.”

“At the time, this had never been done. Why would an oncologist ever need to meet with someone from the national immunization program? For what?” Emmanuel asks laughing. “But once we got them working together, they developed the country’s first-ever HPV prevention guidelines and helped us advance the introduction of the HPV vaccine.”

After the success of Emmanuel’s inclusive, network-first approach in Uganda, he began supporting HPV vaccine introduction in other African countries—including heavy lifts for Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, as well as light support to many others.

Even when he became a full country director for PATH’s program in Uganda (2014–2021), Emmanuel continued supporting many vaccine efforts in Uganda and across Africa, by serving on many national and international committees.

Refine and repeat

Today, Emmanuel is in a new, but related role advancing a different lifesaving vaccine. As PATH’s director of the Typhoid Vaccine Acceleration Consortium (TyVAC)—members include PATH, the Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford—Emmanuel now leads and advises teams in countries across Africa and Asia as they build government support for introducing typhoid conjugate vaccine (TCV).

“With HPV, I was the one running around corridors looking for different people to support my cause,” he says with a smile. “Now, I’m trying to share my skills and experiences with others so they can do the same.”

So far, TCV has been successfully introduced in Liberia, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe. In Pakistan alone, more than 30 million children have been vaccinated against typhoid. As a leading TyVAC partner, PATH is poised to support additional countries with new vaccine decision-making, applications to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and TCV introductions, beginning with Malawi and Nepal in 2022.

As Emmanuel shares his expertise with different teams, he says they are always refining their approaches together and developing best practices that can be applied in other countries facing similar obstacles.

“I love this work. Of course, it has challenges, but public health measures like immunization are the best way to make a big impact—not only to save lives, but to help communities flourish.”

To learn more about the Typhoid Vaccine Acceleration Consortium, click here.

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