In a Lancet perspective article of 29 June 2019, Geoff Wyatt writes on Dr John Nkengasong’s long-term vision for Africa CDC. The article looks back at Dr Nkengasong’s impressive career and track record, which equipped him to set out and build Africa CDC from scratch. Dr Nkengasong excelled in basic and field research as well as translating laboratory advice into practice during his years as branch chief at the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. As part of Dr Nkengasong’s goal of providing support to laboratory systems in Africa, he took a key role in establishing the African Society for Laboratory Medicine (ASLM) in 2011 and mobilized global health stakeholders, Ministries of Health and the African Union behind this initiative. Today ASLM continues its role to advance various aspects of laboratory medicine across the continent and assists Africa CDC in achieving its goals under the laboratory network strategic pillar.
Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene, Tom Keyon, the CEO of Project Hope and Kevin de Cock, the Director of County CDC in Kenya, acknowledge the achievements of Dr Nkengasong in his various positions and responsibilities, and praise his capacity to mobilize Africa around his vision. Dr Nkengasong sees Africa CDC’s role as helping countries to do things that they cannot do by themselves, such as tackling cross-border health problems like Ebola outbreaks. Africa CDC also aims to help countries in things they should be doing for themselves, such as setting up stronger national public health systems. This vision is articulated around the notion that each member state should have strong national public health institutes (NPHI).
Currently, Africa CDC is focused on building strong networks of NPHIs, recruiting sufficiently skill staff at Africa CDC headquarters and ensuring that the 5 Africa CDC regional collaborating centers in Gabon, Egypt, Zambia, Kenya and Nigeria become operational. Reflecting on Dr Nkengasong’s task, Peter Piot and Kevin de Cock recognize that overcoming the heavy bureaucracy of the African Union and obtaining more independence for Africa CDC will be critical to the achievement of its goals.