A new force: Africa CDC

At 15 years old, EDCTP is still a youthful organisation, but now there are newer kids on the block! One of the most significant disease control initiatives of the last few years has been the launch (by the African Union) of the Africa Centres for Disease Control & Prevention (Africa CDC). The move was a response to the disturbing increase, since the 1970s, in the frequency of disease outbreaks across Africa. Of particular concern have been Ebola, Lassa and cholera.

Africa CDC was launched in January last year. Participants of the Ninth EDCTP Forum were impressed to learn just how much the agency has done in the short time that has passed since then, as described in a presentation by its Director John Nkengasong.

While Dr Nkengasong noted that ´hardly a week now goes by without a new cholera outbreak´, it was probably the spread of Ebola in recent years (particularly the major outbreak in West Africa) that has provided the greatest spur for the setting up of Africa CDC. Also important has been the background of: population growth, increased migration, air travel and the move towards free trade. All these developments have their positive sides but create issues for disease control.

Africa CDC is a specialised technical institution of the AU and Dr Nkengasong outlined its remit. However, most impressive was his list of Africa CDC actions in the field. Teams were sent to many outbreak sites. This has included the use of members of the agency’s volunteer corps; very experienced Congolese volunteers for example have been sent to other countries. Moreover, training programmes have been put in place.

On the institutional level, Africa CDC is collaborating with national institutes of health. John Nkengasong wants to see ‘a new public health order for Africa’. Improved surveillance and higher quality data will be essential towards achieving this aim. Some African countries are making good progress; he referred to Nigeria´s response to recent outbreaks of Lassa, cerebrospinal meningitis and monkeypox. Globally, China which previously had taken very little disease control action, also provides a recent demonstration of what can be done.

“Disease outbreaks are public health threats to peace and security and have major impacts on the economy”.

Asked about sources of funding, John Nkengasong said that programatic funding came entirely from the AU, but other support was also being provided, e.g. by the USA and China.

Africa CDC looks forward to working in partnership with EDCTP. Members of the audience indicated that their organisations too would like to be partners; Dr Nkengasong urged them to ´join the Africa CDC train!’

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