Africa CDC Promises Smooth Leadership Transition, Expands COVID Vaccination Campaign to Include Other Vaccines
Outgoing Africa CDC Director Ahmed Ogwell Ouma meets WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Geneva during the May 2022 World Health Assembly.

No date has yet been set for the recently-elected Director General of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) Jean Kaseya to take over his new tasks, said acting director Dr Ahmed Ogwell Ouma on Thursday.

But he promised that the transition period would be a smooth one, saying: “After the decision by the African Union summit, there are internal processes that continue to be done. And as soon as those have been completed, you will be hearing from us. 

“Suffice to say that we are in a transition period and Africa CDC continues to work until the incoming leadership is in place,” Ouma told Health Policy Watch at a press briefing on Thursday.

Kaseya was electeed as Africa CDC’s new head, in late February on the sidelines of the 36th session of the African Union.  A Democratic Republic of Congo national with a seasoned international health career, he beat 179 other candidates, including Ouma,  who had been appointed as acting director following the departure of John Nkengasong in May 2022, to head the US President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). 

Africa CDC pivots COVID-19 vaccine campaign to broader aims 

Vials of Pfizer´s COVID-19 vaccine.

Meanwhile, Ouma said that the agency has also extended its COVID-19 vaccination acceleration campaign, the Bingwa Initiative,  which was due to end in April, until the end of 2023. 

That comes even as multiple countries in eastern and southern Africa battle a prolonged cholera outbreak, which WHO has blamed on excessive flooding. 

Launched in April 2022, the COVID-19 vaccine acceleration campaign originally aimed to have 100 million African citizens vaccinated by April 2023. But as that goal remains far from being achieved, Africa CDC is now also striving to expand the initiative’s scope, Ouma said.

Going forward, the initiative, supported by the MasterCard Foundation, the German Development Cooperation Project, UNICEF and others, will not only be utilized to promote COVID-19 vaccination but to promote immunization against other vaccine-preventable diseases, harnessing the energies of a new Africa CDC youth advisory team, he said.

“We are extending the Bingwa initiative at least until the end of the year. In fact, we are not only going to utilize this initiative for COVID-19 vaccination, which is the primary objective, but we are going to utilize it for health in general. It is part of the reason why I set up the youth advisory team for health so that we can be able to bring the youth into our work, our strategizing as Africa CDC.” 

Training of the initiative’s ambassadors is set to begin in South Sudan, in addition to central and western African regions in the coming weeks, he added. “We want to be sure that the youth are firmly part of all our community-based activities going forward as far as leadership is concerned,” he added. 

Floods exacerbate cholera risks, but poor WASH and vaccine shortages also to blame

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Africa Regional Director at WHO

Meanwhile, in a separate briefing, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa said that extreme weather leading to excessive flooding is prolonging the multi-country cholera outbreak in southern and eastern Africa – despite falling case rates over the past week. 

Addressing journalists on Thursday, Dr Matshidiso Moeti noted that even though weekly cholera cases in the affected African countries are declining, heavy rains in southern Africa continue to raise the risk of disease spread – exacerbating peoples’ exposure to contaminated food and water.

“In southern Africa, cholera outbreaks are occurring amid seasonal rains and tropical storms that have caused heavy flooding. 

While climate change is a key factor, poor water and sanitation more generally, and lack of vaccine access are other critical drivers of the outbreaks, global health experts say.  

Due to a shortage of cholera vaccines, WHO last year recommended that countries move from a two-dose to one-dose regimen to allow for more people to get at least one jab. And WHO says it has helped facilitate Malawi’s access to some 4.9 million doses since May 2022.  But public health officials lament the fact that preventative campaigns were not conducted prior to last year. 

South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe latest to detect cases

Cholera flourishes in dirty water.

According to the WHO, 12 African countries are currently reporting cases, with South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe the latest to detect cholera cases. 

The number of new cholera cases fell to 2880 in the week ending on 26 February, a 37% decline compared with the week before when 4584 cases were recorded. The number of deaths in the same period however remained nearly unchanged, declining marginally from 82 to 81.

In Malawi, where cholera has so-far killed 1500 people over the last year, increased rainfall is slowing outbreak control efforts in some areas, with response teams facing difficulty reaching people in need of assistance due to inaccessible roads and infrastructure damage. Some cholera treatment units have been flooded and there has been an increase in cases reported in some locations following the heavy rainfall,” Moeti stated.

In Mozambique, WHO’s regional director noted that Tropical Storm Freddy, which made landfall on 24 February, has caused widespread infrastructure damage with over 44,000 people affected, 55 health facilities damaged or destroyed and nearly 3500 km of road damaged.

Six out of Mozambique’s 11 districts have been affected by cholera outbreaks and the country has seen a sharp increase in cases since December 2022 amid the ongoing rainy season. 

“Countries have stepped up cholera control measures and early indications are promising. However, the heavy flooding and cyclonic events in parts of southern Africa risk fuelling the spread of the disease,” said Moeti. “We’re reinforcing our support to countries to increase disease detection capacity, providing medical supplies and stepping up readiness in regions at risk of flooding.”

Image Credits: Ahmed Ogwell/Twitter , Photo by Mat Napo on Unsplash, L Pezzoli/ WHO.

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