Africa CDC Director Stresses Independent Health Systems

Albert Zhang/Contributing

John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), discussed his work in developing a new, unified public health infrastructure for Africa in a Sept. 12 address to about 125 students, administrators and alumni.

As the leader of the organization, which was chartered by the African Union in January 2017, Nkengasong said he hopes to design a safer, healthier and prosperous Africa by detecting and combating diseases with more advanced technologies.

Public health issues in Africa include HIV/AIDS (60 percent of the people who have AIDS are located in Africa) and high rates of malaria in young children, according to the World Health Organization.

Nkengasong stressed the importance of continental integration and independence from foreign influence in Africa’s public health systems.

He explained that one of the Africa CDC’s goals is to examine disease specimens in Africa so it can identify outbreaks faster. Rather than shipping samples to labs in the United States or Europe, Nkengasong hopes to develop a network of labs in Ethiopia, Egypt, Gabon, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia.

Nkengasong further emphasized the need to modernize Africa’s public health infrastructure toward data-driven and data-sharing models. He noted that many Africans do not exist in any legal or statistical registers due to various administrative, logistical and political roadblocks.

“There was a study which was published in Nigeria, and it shows that [data] quality can range from 54 to 64 percent,” Nkengasong said. “Which — when your target was 80 percent, and the quality of data affects every program — is very challenging.”

The Africa CDC serves all 54 countries in the continent and has supported the development and integration of 14 national public health institutes. The organization is providing assistance in the construction of 20 more institutes to conduct research and provide training in individual countries.

Caroline Ngure (06PH), who attended the event, said she was impressed by Nkengasong’s goal of African integration and independence.

“The exciting part is that for Emory students, this type of exposure helps them see that there is a world out there that’s going to benefit from what you’re doing,” Ngure said.

CORRECTION (9/20/18 at 12:16 p.m.): The article previously stated that Africa CDC serves all 55 countries. In fact, Africa CDC serves 55 states but most countries do not recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as an independent country.

CORRECTION (9/19/18 at 12:47 a.m.): The article previously stated that 60 percent of Africans have HIV/AIDS. In fact, 60 percent of all people with HIV/AIDS are in Africa.

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