DAKAR, Feb 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Africa's new
continent-wide public health agency could help prevent a repeat
of the disastrous Ebola epidemic by monitoring diseases across
country borders and deploying a rapid task force at the first
signs of an outbreak, health experts said.
The African Union (AU) launched the Africa Centres for
Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) on Jan. 31 at its
headquarters in Ethiopia. Epidemiologists began disease
surveillance work there this month.
The agency will have regional centres equipped for lab
testing in Egypt, Nigeria, Gabon, Zambia and Kenya, and will
expand an emergency volunteer corps created during the Ebola
epidemic to thousands of health workers across the continent.
"What the Africa CDC can truly contribute is to bring
(international disease) response closer to the countries," said
incoming director John Nkengasong, a virologist and senior
official at the U.S. CDC.
The agency will focus on strengthening national health
systems through its regional networks, Nkengasong said, making
countries less reliant on overseas medical aid, staff and
equipment during outbreaks.
Although the AU first proposed the idea for an African
health agency in 2013, the Ebola epidemic in 2014-2015 sharpened
its urgency and accelerated the planning, according to people
International agencies, including the World Health
Organization (WHO), were widely criticised for taking too long
to respond to the Ebola outbreak, which killed over 11,300
people in West Africa.
Creating a response mechanism within Africa was a logical
next step, experts said.
The director of disease control and prevention in Sierra
Leone, one of the countries hit hardest by Ebola, said he
thought the most important aspect of Africa CDC would be
collaboration with other countries' health agencies.
"I think it's a very good idea so we can share information
and work together," Foday Dafae told the Thomson Reuters
Foundation, adding the biggest challenge would likely be
Other health experts also praised the move, but said Africa
CDC's effectiveness could hinge on funding.
"The AU initiative is evidence that countries have taken
stock of the Ebola crisis," said Mads Oyen, West and Central
Africa emergency adviser for the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF.
"However, in order for Africa CDC to be a strong
organisation, it will require long-term political will and
financial commitment by national governments, as well as strong
support from donor institutions," he added.
The AU Commission has allocated about 0.5 percent of its
operating budget to Africa CDC, and other funding will come from
member states, partner countries and the private sector. The
United States and China are among those supporting the
The U.S. CDC has advised the agency throughout its creation
and will send two long-term advisors to the AU headquarters and
support ten African epidemiologists in the regional centres.
The WHO has also provided technical assistance and will work
closely with Africa CDC, said WHO Africa emergencies director
Ibrahima Soce Fall, calling it a "very important step for the
Experts said the agency's relationship with the WHO will be
critical to avoid being perceived as competition.
Africa CDC will launch a five-year strategic plan in Addis
Ababa at the end of March, and after that will build its staff.
"There will be challenges," said director Nkengasong. "But
the public health opportunities are huge."
(Reporting by Nellie Peyton; editing by Megan Rowling. Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change,
resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights.