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Africa CDC: Who should replace John Nkengasong?

Jade Scarfe
By Jade Scarfe

Development Reimagined’s Project Manager for the Africa Unconstrained flagship project. Her research areas include South-South cooperation, development effectiveness and private sector investment.

Patrick Anam
By Patrick Anam

An advocate, High Court of Kenya with ten years experience, and partner at Liko & Anam Advocates Nairobi. An international trade law and trade policy expert with over five years of experience in supporting developing countries, in particular African countries, develop national and sectoral trade and diversification strategies/policies and development plans.

Posted on Thursday, 14 October 2021 12:15

John Nkengasong, Africa's Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), speaks during an interview with Reuters at the African Union (AU) Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Africa CDC head, John Nkengasong, has been nominated by Biden to head the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in Africa. Who will the baton be passed on to?

Saying goodbye to the Africa Centre of Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) first Director –  Dr. John Nkengasong – is sure to be a bittersweet moment.

Nkengasong leaves behind an incredible legacy, having recently won the 2020 Global Goalkeepers Award for his highly commendable contributions towards health.

He has been nominated by US President Biden to head the $7bn US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Africa, a programme that he was one of the founding leaders of.

The Africa CDC

Despite being the world’s youngest Centre of Disease Control, established only four years ago in January 2017 under the African Union (AU), the Africa CDC, under Nkengasong’s strong leadership, has played a pivotal role in supporting African countries tackle health threats.

The institution was established following the 2014 to 2016 Ebola epidemic, which led to heightened calls for a centralised health body to coordinate cross-border responses, with five regional centres set up across the continent. The Africa CDC’s central task is to support member-states’ public health initiatives alongside strengthening the capacity of their public health institutions to detect, prevent, control and respond to disease threats.

The Africa CDC’s effectiveness is evident through its coordination and support to African countries during the Covid-19 pandemic – whether that be through actively securing 670 million vaccines doses with the AU in February 2021 or through developing its own Trace, Test & Track (CDC-T3) initiative, which included creating medical supply distribution hubs alongside deploying one million community workers for contact tracing.

Who can take over from Nkengasong

Here at Development Reimagined, we’ve been brainstorming some potential female candidates:

  1. Dr Margaret Agama-Anyetei – Head of the Health, Nutrition and Population Division of the AU Department for Social Affairs. She has a strong clinical and advocacy focus on HIV and AIDS, with extensive experience working with marginalised and vulnerable populations – particularly women and children – in conflict and humanitarian settings. Her leadership experiences will be vital for driving AU’s health agenda forward through Africa CDC.
  2. Dr Irene A. Agyepong – a Public Health Physician with the Dodowa Health Research Center under the Ghana Health Service. She is also currently a member of the Independent Advisory Committee for the Global Burden of Disease, a collaborative global research initiative that reports on epidemiological trends worldwide Dr Agyepong’s experience in research combined with her previous positions in multilateral organisations demonstrates her strong capabilities to work and coordinate across several environments.
  3. Professor Pascale Allottey – With over two decades in global health with a multidisciplinary background, alongside a wealth of knowledge from working across four continents, she is Director of the United Nations University International Institute for Global Health and a highly experienced candidate. Professor Allottely certainly fits the bill for steering the Africa CDC agenda forward through bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation.
  4. Professor Agnes Binagwaho – the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity in Rwanda. She has held an array of leadership and advisory positions on both a national and international scale, including her current position as a senior advisor of the WHO’s Director-General. Professor Binagwaho’s role within several different organisations, combined with her research expertise, equips her with the skills and experience to lead the Africa CDC going forward.
  5. Professor Senait Fisseha –  a globally recognised leader in reproductive health and a lifelong gender champion. She currently serves as the Director of Global Programs at the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, alongside holding the Chief Advisor role to the Director-General of the WHO.
  6. Dr Quarraisha A. Karim – an infectious diseases epidemiologist and specialist in clinical epidemiology, whose research interests revolve around the evolving HIV epidemic in South Africa, HIV infection in adolescent girls, and sustainable strategies to antiretroviral therapy in resource-constrained settings. Such experience is capacity building, and HIV prevention and response is another crucial element under the Africa CDC, thus making Dr Karim another strong candidate.
  7. Dr Catherine Kyobutungi – Her research interests lie in chronic disease management and health system responsiveness. She is currently the Executive Director of the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) and formerly served as the Center’s Director of Research, whilst having held various other leadership positions at the organisation over the past 15 years. Dr Kyobutungi’s experiences make her a strong advocate for African voices in the continent’s development and a central proponent of evidence-informed decision-making with Africans in the driving seat – core to the Africa CDC.
  8. Dr Sylvia A. Ojoo – an Associate Professor of Medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center. She has led, developed and implemented large-scale HIV care and treatment programs across various health institutions in Kenya, serving over 200,000 patients on antiretroviral treatment. Dr Ojoo’s hands-on experience in supporting capacity building amongst healthcare workers is a valuable skill for the leadership of the Africa CDC.
  9. Professor Olive Shisana – the President and CEO of Evidence-Based Solutions Ltd, a company dedicated to providing research and technological support in public health and information and communications technology (ICT) for health to African countries. Previously, she was the Executive Director. Professor Shisana’s past roles at international organisations, alongside her unique experience in the ICT for health field, provide a solid foundation needed for the Africa CDC spot.
  10. Dr Monique Wasunna – A physician and infectious disease and tropical medicine specialist. She has held numerous leadership roles at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). Including the Chief Research Officer and Assistant Director of Research, as well as being the Acting Director of the institution. This experience leading and working within national and internationally funded projects provide Dr Wasunna with expertise in coordinating across environments to address health challenges.

We wish to point out that the brilliant women mentioned above are simply suggestions from Development Reimagined! We do not influence the selection of the who takes up the mantle at this vital institution, and we’re curious to know whom others think would be the best fit for such a role.

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