WASHINGTON, D.C. – On April 13, 2015, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, chairperson of the African Union Commission, signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC), formalizing a partnership to create an African Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Coordinating Center of the new African CDC will be located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with five supporting Regional Collaborating Centers spread throughout the continent.
The idea to create an African CDC was first proposed two years earlier at the 2013 African Union Special Summit hosted in Abuja, Nigeria. Initial proponents of the project were motivated by the most threatening diseases at the time (HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria), but the project has been fast-tracked due to the deadly Ebola outbreak of recent months.
U.S. CDC Director, Tom Frieden, said, “The West African Ebola epidemic reaffirmed the need for a public health institute to support African ministries of health and other health agencies in their efforts to prevent, detect, and respond to any disease outbreak. This memorandum solidifies the commitment by the United States to advance public health across Africa and global health security.”
The African CDC offices are expected to be launched by the end of 2015, in accordance with the creation of a CDC Surveillance and Response Unit, which will streamline emergency response systems and enhance technical capabilities for the region.
The African CDC’s field epidemiologists are responsible for disease surveillance, investigations, analysis, and reporting trends and anomalies. This data, once collected, can help both African and U.S. governments understand the most up-to-date status of Ebola outbreaks and other life-threatening diseases.
Currently, Africa already possesses a large number of trained epidemiologists, courtesy of the U.S. CDC, but it lacks an effective organizational system to control and monitor these health operations. That is where the new CDC steps in. The Coordinating Center and its subsequent Regional Collaborating Centers are essential to structurally organize the efforts of these medical professionals and volunteers, as well as to help maintain active communication between the U.S. and African CDC branches.
According to the U.S. CDC, “Through the African Union Support for Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (ASEOWA) mission, the AU sent over 800 medical volunteers and public health responders to fight the Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone from September 2014 to February 2015. With the African CDC in place, these volunteers and others can be organized to form a deployable force ready to serve Member States during future health emergency responses on the continent.”
The establishment of the African CDC is an essential step towards systemically organizing the continent’s health protection. As a result, it will provide immediate assistance to some of the poorest countries in the world, where disease thrives.
Tom Kenyon, director of the U.S. CDC’s Center for Global Health stated, “The U.S. CDC applauds the African Union and Member States in their leadership of this historic initiative. This is a landmark event in African ownership of improving health across the continent. The U.S. CDC looks forward to engaging in this partnership for many years to come.”
– Hanna Darroll