Last week I attended a talk by Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The talk was given at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and gave a brief overview of the Africa CDC and its goals.

The idea for the Africa CDC was originally developed and commissioned by the African Union (AU) in 2013, and the Africa CDC was launched in January 2017. Inspired by the U.S. CDC, the Africa CDC is headquartered at the AU in Ethiopia and has five regional centres in Egypt, Nigeria, Gabon, Kenya and Zambia. It responds to and addresses, from a health perspective, some of the African Union aspirations such as the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), Open Sky Agreement (integrated airlines) and open movement (e.g., African passport). The potential impact of such endeavours on health became even more pressing after the 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. Focus areas of the Africa CDC, however, include not only emerging infectious diseases but also non-communicable diseases.

Given the sometimes controversial role of global health agencies’ and funders’ operations in African countries, including for example the U.S. CDC, the existence of an Africa CDC—a public health agency governed and owned by African member states—seems like a potentially attractive solution to some of the concerns that arise from foreign-driven public health activities in Africa. Dr. Nkengasong emphasized that every member state should develop a National Public Health Institute (NPHI) within its Ministry of Health. Currently, 14 have been established and a further 20 have been considered. Goals of the NPHIs would include enhancing a culture of data, regional integrated surveillance and laboratory networks, among other functions.

Some of the Africa CDCs upcoming programmes include a conference on social sciences in epidemics and pandemics in Addis Ababa on March 12. They also plan to establish the Wits Scholarships for Masters in Epidemiology at the University of Witwatersrand. In addition, they would like to start an African Epidemiology Training Programme and African Volunteer Health Corps. They have also recently acquired the Journal of Public Health in Africa.

The Africa CDC hopes to build partnerships to strengthen and establish the NPHIs, enhance data, and build the public health workforce and research. The greatest challenge for the Africa CDC, Dr. Nkengasong said, is capacity—having the people.

More information on the Africa CDC is available from their website and the AU:

About Kafui Adjaye-Gbewonyo

Kafui is a Research Associate with the Chronic Disease in Sub-Saharan Africa team. She is examining recent trends in chronic diseases and potential social, demographic, behavioural, psychosocial and environmental explanations for these trends using data from South African and Ghanaian population surveys. She is also collecting family health histories of chronic disease through interviews with coastal Ghanaians.