New African center to tackle infectious diseases

Spurred on by the recent Ebola outbreak, an African Center for Disease Control and Prevention is being established this year to effectively respond to major epidemics.

Spurred on by the recent Ebola outbreak, an African Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is being established this year to effectively respond to major epidemics.

The need for an African CDC was recognised at the African Union Special Summit on HIV and AIDS, TB, and Malaria in Abuja in July 2013. Like the US CDC, which was created 70 years ago in response to a malaria epidemic, the Addis Ababa-based facility, will tackle various health threats especially infectious diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and Ebola. It will help African countries share information more effectively and build capacity to prevent, detect and treat epidemic outbreaks collectively.

The African Union (AU) is collaborating with the US CDC to establish the center and a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed in Washington DC on 13 April, between AU Commission chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and US secretary of state John Kerry.

US support for HIV response in Africa

The signing of the agreement precedes President Barack Obama’s visit to Africa in July. In August 2006, as a newly elected senator, Obama visited South Africa, Chad and Kenya, where he and wife Michelle took a public HIV test to counter stigma.

The new center will offer HIV services for vulnerable African populations in line with the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). It will also provide a forum to address the AU Roadmap on shared Responsibility and Global Solidarity, which was adopted in 2013.

“For HIV-infected populations in Africa, the CDC will provide treatment to the most susceptible people. It will also prioritise and achieve antiretroviral therapy (ART) coverage of at least 90 per cent amongst HIV-infected adults with a very weak immune system,” said Allan Ragi from the Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium (KANCO).

Sub-Saharan Africa

Africa is the continent most affected by HIV and combatting the disease is critical as it poses a great threat to African socio-economic development, peace and security.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region most heavily affected by HIV with 25 million adults and children living with HIV (Avert). And the disease remains particularly acute among women and children in rural areas, where access and uptake of ART is very poor due to issues such as lack of transport to get to health facilities, cultural beliefs and stigma.

Kenyan Health Secretary James Macharia said: “The African CDC is an effective and clear strategy to reduce the burdens of deadly diseases. It also demonstrates President Obama’s commitment to stop infectious diseases, especially HIV in Africa where the population is younger and growing faster than anywhere in the world.”

The new institution will reduce the burden and transmission of HIV in Africa by ensuring better access to ART. Professor Omu Anzala from the Kenya Aids Vaccine Initiative said: “Controlling HIV in Africa should focus on those at higher risk of acquiring and transmitting the disease, including vulnerable groups like sex workers, men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs. The centre is a godsend for vulnerable populations and will achieve significant gains in reducing HIV in Africa.”

Timely Relief

African ministers of finance meeting in Ethiopia in April resolved that African countries must learn key lessons from recent epidemics. And they heard that the response to the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa was poor and uncoordinated. Financing shortfalls demonstrate that, despite numerous declarations, African governments are not yet fully convinced that investment in health is the key to sustainable development.

The meeting called for the establishment of an African Human Resources for Health Development Fund. Since health systems cannot function without health workers, the idea is for Africa countries to borrow health resources from the fund in order to prevent epidemics.

“African countries should work together on infectious disease control and strong sustainable health systems. For Africa to achieve the post-2015 health goals, international cooperation is vital,” said Dr Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, the African Union’s Commissioner for Social Affairs.

According to Secretary Kerry, the US will second experts to the African CDC to support surveillance, response and emergency operations. Washington will also provide fellowships for African health workers who will be trained in epidemiology, prevention interventions and available treatments.

With the establishment of the CDC, the AU will review progress toward implementing transformative reforms in HIV, tuberculosis and malaria epidemics, alongside continued efforts to build resilient health systems and provide universal access to health care.

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