Gavi, the world’s largest vaccine-focused public-private partnership has a new leader. Pakistani Senator Dr Sania Nishtar has officially assumed the role of CEO following a period of leadership uncertainty for the organisation and must now lay out Gavi’s strategic plan for 2026 to 2030, as well as convince its partners to step up funding efforts.


Founded at the turn of the millennium, Geneva-headquartered Gavi has since helped vaccinate more than half the world’s children and claims to have helped avert more than 17.3 million deaths. It brings together developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry, technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private sector partners.

During Seth Berkeley’s long tenure as CEO between 2011 and 2023, Gavi added various new vaccines to its portfolio including HPV, polio, cholera, malaria, and of course COVID-19. Gavi was a key partner in the COVAX COVID-19 vaccine allocation plan, which aimed to ensure the equal split of vaccine distribution between rich and poor countries. While vaccine nationalism, geopolitical conflict, and a lack of infrastructure in developing countries meant that COVAX’s admirable equity goals were not fully achieved, Gavi did manage to break through and distribute almost a billion COVID-19 vaccine doses in 2021.

Berkely was slated to be succeeded by Nigerian doctor, politician, and Harvard Professor Muhammad Ali Pate, but Ali Pate backed out and returned to Nigeria shortly before he was due to take up the position. Since mid-2023, GAVI has had an interim CEO, David Marlow.

In a Gavi press release, Nishtar laid out the scale of her new role: “Health starts with life-saving vaccines. Over the past 23 years, Gavi has been one of the most impactful organisations in global health. The task ahead is enormous – from health impacts of climate change, to the need to tackle vaccine inequity, prepare for future outbreaks and boost routine immunisation, which I believe is the gateway to achieving Universal Health Coverage. I am honoured by the trust the Gavi Board has placed in me and look forward to working with Gavi’s talented staff and skilled Alliance partners to ensure Gavi reaches hundreds of millions of children in lower-income countries with life-saving vaccines against deadly and debilitating diseases.”

Gavi has bold plans to help solve the vaccine inequity highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including sourcing 30 percent of the vaccines distributed in Africa from Africa itself and supercharging African manufacturing funding via a new accelerator mechanism. Significant new manufacturing projects such as MARBIO in Morocco hold much promise, but there remains a long road to travel.

Regardless, the Gavi Board seem convinced they have the right person at the helm. As Professor José Manuel Barroso, Chair of the Gavi Board, noted in the same press release: “Over three decades of leadership at the national and global levels, Dr Nishtar has built a reputation as a tireless advocate for health equity, an innovative thinker and a proven doer when it comes to solving complex challenges. I am impressed by her accomplishments and excited by the possibilities her appointment brings for our Alliance and our ambitions to protect future generations.”

Gavi’s fifth five-year strategic period finishes at the end of 2025, meaning that Nishtar will need to seek Board approval this year for its 2026–2030 strategy. The press release notes that fundraising will also be a priority for Gavi’s new CEO, with plans for an event co-hosted by France and Africa CDC to launch Gavi’s investment opportunity this June.


Image Source: Gavi