The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is taking a decisive step at Cop28, underscoring the need for stronger health systems and local vaccine manufacturing in Africa. This move comes at a crucial time when the continent is facing the dual challenges of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and preparing for future health emergencies, exacerbated by the climate crisis.
Revamping Africa CDC: Towards Greater Autonomy and Resilience
In July 2023, Africa CDC introduced its restructured Advisory and Technical Council (ATC) during a session in Nairobi, Kenya. This transformation reflects a strategic shift to enhance disease prevention and control measures across the continent, strengthening leadership and governance structures. Dr. Jean Kaseya, the Director General of Africa CDC, underscored the importance of this reorganization, especially in light of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The restructuring of Africa CDC aligns with the African Union’s (AU) decision to grant the agency greater autonomy, recognizing the need for flexibility and rapid response to emerging health issues. This autonomy came after years of the AU exercising close oversight, which often proved challenging for the Africa CDC’s operational needs.
Expanding Capacities and Building Partnerships
Africa CDC operates through a decentralized model, relying on the cooperation of national health institutions across AU member states. It has established five regional collaborating centres, intended to serve as hubs for strengthening surveillance, preparedness, and emergency response activities.
The agency has also focused on building robust laboratory capacity across the region, essential for pandemic preparedness. This includes training and capacity-building support to address antimicrobial resistance and establishing harmonized standards for public health data utilization through its Regional Integrated Surveillance and Laboratory Network (RISLNET).
Furthermore, Africa CDC has entered into strategic partnerships, such as with FIND, to increase access to diagnostic tools, and with the African Society for Laboratory Medicine (ASLM). These collaborations are pivotal in establishing public health norms and coordinating mechanisms for responding to health emergencies.
The U.S. Role in Strengthening Africa CDC
The U.S. government played a foundational role in the early days of Africa CDC and continues to be a central technical partner. This relationship has been instrumental in developing syndromic surveillance systems and public health plans for the region. In 2022, the U.S. renewed its partnership with Africa CDC, focusing on building capacity for national health institutes, developing testing and diagnostics capacity, and expanding vaccine manufacturing capacity in Africa.
Challenges and Future Directions
Despite its progress, Africa CDC faces challenges in maintaining its momentum and expanding its impact. These include mobilizing sustainable financing, building the capacity of key national and regional actors, maintaining goodwill and support, enhancing transparency and accountability, and clarifying its relationship with WHO.
Conclusion: As Africa CDC navigates its transition to a fully autonomous organization, its role in shaping public health policies and practices in Africa is more crucial than ever. With new strategic objectives outlined in its 2022-2026 plan and the ongoing support of international partners, Africa CDC is poised to lead the continent in tackling current and future health challenges, a mission highlighted at the Cop28 summit.
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