Address by President von der Leyen to Professor Peter Piot at the Handover Symposium of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Dear Professor Piot,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

when we are talking about the pandemic, it is usually hard to find good news. But when we look to science, this picture is completely different. If there has been one bright spot in this crisis, it was the unprecedented level of scientific collaboration. Thousands of dedicated scientists have worked day and night to analyse data, to advise policymakers and to develop and test vaccines as well as medicines. They have saved countless lives. And I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.

But there is one scientist, one expert, one colleague, who has been for me the face of this European global and scientific community. That person is Peter Piot.

Professor Piot has been my advisor since the beginning of the pandemic. I could not have had a wiser and more helpful virologist to accompany me through these challenging months. Peter Piot embodies the best of science. He is a shining example of the positive contribution that a scientist advising politicians can make.

Today, I want to thank you, dear Peter, for the quality of your advice and for your commitment to our European and global approach in fighting this pandemic. Working with you was always a pleasure. Whenever I had an urgent question, a short text message was enough – and I had the answer straight away.

And whether we were discussing the consequences of the Alpha and Delta variants, the issue of intellectual property rights or other pressing matters, you remained calm and helped to put even the most serious things into perspective. I quickly realized that we were in very able hands. Because there is no virus that could really scare Peter.

He is a pioneer in the fight against viruses. Back in 1976 he was among those who detected Ebola. And in the 1980s he was at the forefront of the fight against AIDS. Peter Piot led the research on HIV, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. He worked in Burundi and Tanzania, in Kenya and Zaire, and was the co-leader of the first international AIDS research programme. So, in drawing conclusions and recommendations from scientific evidence, Peter Piot brings to benefit this enormous real world experience.

In addition, when it comes to global health issues, Peter Piot knows all the relevant stakeholders – most of them on a personal basis. His network from scientists to politicians, from the heads of big pharmaceutical companies to leading NGO-activists, is second to none. This is what makes his advice especially valuable for policy-makers.

Peter was a professor of microbiology and of public health at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, the Free University of Brussels and the University of Nairobi. And his scientific output is staggering:

Until now Peter has written 17 books and published more than 600 scientific articles. He has worked at the UN, the WHO and at universities across the world, until the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine became his professional home.

After more than 10 years at the helm of this wonderful institution he is now stepping down as director. I know that he will be hugely missed there. But I am very happy that Professor Piot continues to be my special advisor on COVID-19. And he will continue to lead the Commission´s panel of national science advisors. Because the next pandemic must not find us unprepared.

During this crisis we have seen what Europe can achieve together. Our European response to the pandemic has been united and strong.

Dear Peter,

this would not have been possible without you!

I warmly wish you every success and every happiness for the future!

And I look forward to continuing working with you.

Thank you so much!

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