Africa CDC is Elevated to Status of Continental Public Health Agency
The African Union held its annual summit in Addis Ababa

The African Union has decided to elevate its African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) to the status of an autonomous public health agency for the continent – rather than operating simply as technical arm of the AU.

“Africa CDC will now be an autonomous health agency for the continent. Until now, Africa CDC was a specialized technical institution. It will now be elevated into a full public health agency for the continent, which will be more or less autonomous,” declared Dr John Nkengasong, Africa CDC’s director, on Sunday, the second day of the 35th AU summit that took place over the weekend in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

The elevation of the Africa CDC – which will now report directly to Heads of State of AU Member Countries – signals the growing member state commitment to strengthening the continent’s response to current and future disease outbreaks, he added.

This development, Nkengasong said, is as a result of continent leaders’ renewed perception of disease as a security threat for the continent, in the wake of the COVID pandemic, among other disease trends. 

“They want to have full, timely access to anything that happens within the continent so that they can provide policy guidance. So I think that is extremely encouraging,” he added.

Summit leaders also pledged their support for the full-fledged establishment of the African Medicines Agency (AMA); aggressively combating malaria and female genital mutilation; and a 2022 AU “Year of Nutrition” – which would aim to get the continent back on track towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals for nutrition – as well as for resilient agriculture. 

Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong

Kenya calls on fellow heads of state to ‘sign up’ for AMA Treaty; Senegal is latest country to ratify 

The African Medicines Agency (AMA) treaty, which is now being backed by 30 African countries as previously reported by Health Policy Watch, was another major topic of discussion, with various calls by leaders and stakeholders for the agency to fully commence its operations soon. 

Senegal became the latest country to officially ratify the AMA treaty, while Kenya’s president hinted that the East African powerhouse Kenya could join soon.

Addressing his fellow heads-of-state, President Uhuru Kenyatta issued a strong call to African leaders to “sign up as soon as possible for this initiative” – saying that once operational, it will be critical in keeping people on the continent safer from disease threats.

“Several African countries have now signed the AMA treaty, enabling better access to newer, safer medicines.  I urge my fellow heads of state to sign up as soon as possible for this initiative,” Kenyatta declared.

At last month’s World Health Organization (WHO) executive board meeting, Kenya also expressed commitment to the AMA, in remarks made on behalf of the African bloc of WHO member states.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta  speaking at the African Union’s 35th Summit

Senegal’s move means that so far 22 countries have ratified the treaty, while eight more have signed it, for a total of 30 countries in formal support.  Another 25 countries, including the economic and population powerhouses of Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia and Nigeria have yet to sign or ratify the treaty instrument. See the countdown here:

Review of proposals for a host country for the new AMA institution are set to begin in April, with the first AMA Conference of State Parties (CoSP) set for May – where an assessment report will be presented for discussion on recommendations for a venue and next steps to establish the AMA.

Malaria goals lag

African Union media briefing on the Malaria Progress Report 2021, by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and AU Health, Humanitarian & Social Affairs Commissioner Samate Cessouma Minata

On malaria, the Malaria Progress Report 2021 underlined that the African continent is not on track to eliminate malaria by 2030. Africa continues to account for the lion’s share – 98% – of global malaria deaths. 

Out of the total of 611,802 malaria deaths that occurred on the continent in 2020, the report noted that about 49,000 of the deaths were attributed to disruptions to malaria programmes and broader health services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Addressing journalists at the summit, Kenya’s President Kenyatta, who also chairs the African Leaders Malaria Alliance said far-reaching strategies need to be adopted to eliminate malaria.

“For us as a continent, we have attempted to fight malaria in the past but the disease is still a major threat to health and development in Africa,” Kenyatta said.

However, he added that African countries are making progress in implementing a four-point legacy agenda of digitization and scorecard accountability and action plans; a multi-sectoral advocacy, action and resource mobilization; regional coordination and access to life-saving commodities. 

“Happy to report that we have made good progress in implementing the four-point agenda. Countries continue to expand the use of digital tools to strengthen evidence-based accountability and the fight against malaria. All countries are implementing national scorecard tools on malaria, reproductive, maternal, newborn and adolescent and child health care, neglected tropical disease, nutrition and community scorecards,” he added.

See related Health Policy Watch story

Digital Scorecards Provide Citizens with Information on Neglected Tropical Diseases

Year of nutrition

At the summit, AU’s plan to declare 2022 as the “Year of Nutrition” was also finalized.  The plan notes that Covid-19 has greatly exposed the economic vulnerability of African countries, as well as the weaknesses of health and food systems. 

“With the COVID-19 pandemic, much of human capital gains in many economies over the past decade is at risk of being eroded. The price to pay for keeping the virus at bay has been, in many African countries, at the expense of gains made in reducing malnutrition,” the AU stated.

Specifically, it noted that the prevalence of wasting will also increase due to higher risks of acute food insecurity. 

The plan calls for urgent action to recoup and build upon pre-pandemic gains made against undernutrition and malnutrition, including reducing childhood wasting (low weight relative to height) and stunting (low height relative to age).

Stunting, a powerful indicator of undernutrition, still affects some 150.8 milllion children under the age of five, including 58.7 million African children.  Currently only seven AU member states out of 55 have stunting rates below 19%, while only 15 member states have child wasting prevalence below 5%. SDG Goal 2 – Zero Hunger – calls for reducing the prevalence of stunting by 40% by 2025, in comparison to 2012 levels. 

“Investing in human capital is now more important than ever through designing the needed interventions especially targeting the most vulnerable,” the plan asserts.

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