Deputy Africa CDC Director Ahmed Ogwell Ouma Confirms He is Leaving Organization
Dr Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, Africa CDC’s outgoing acting deputy director general, confirms that he is leaving Africa CDC – won’t take a post in another African Union institution.

Acting director of the Africa CDC, Dr Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, on Thursday confirmed that he is leaving the agency at the end of the month. He denied, however, earlier reports that his departure was tied to African CDC age or geographic restrictions in the recruitment of a permanent candidate, but rather attributed the decision to “personal reasons”.

“It has not been an easy decision considering my love and commitment to Africa, but the time has come for me to pursue my professional and personal growth elsewhere. I also confirm that my decision is not in any way related to, nor motivated by any of the ongoing recruitment processes within Africa CDC or the African Union,” Ouma stated in a post on LinkedIn.

The official AU announcement for the position in September 2023 encouraged candidates from “less represented countries within the African Union” – although it did not specifically exclude Kenyans.

But in an X post in December, the CDC’s new director general, A Jean Kaseya made it even more explicit. He said the “ideal candidate” for the deputy director general position should be “under the age of 55” years and from one of the AU’s 32 under-represented countries – effectively excluding Ouma on two counts. 

Kaseya, when he assumed the post of Africa CDC director general following his February 2023 election by AU heads of state, said that he wants Africa CDC to reflect the continent’s diversity. Effectively, however, the recruitment conditions Kaseya cited also clear the table of previous leadership that could challenge Kaseya politically and institutionally in his new role.  In the year prior to Kaseya taking office, Ouma was acting director of Africa CDC.

Ouma’s departure from Africa CDC described as a big loss by some

Ouma described his experience at Africa CDC as one of “honour and privilege to serve my continent Africa,” he said in his LinkedIn post. “I have served with passionate professionals, learnt from seasoned leaders, energised by the vigour of African youth, and blessed with the wisdom of African elders. I have also had the privilege of working with partners (I call them Friends of Africa!) as they supported our work and contributed to our vision of a New Public Health Order.” 

The announcement was met with accolades for Ouma – and some predictions that the departure of the veteran health official is not only a loss, but an institutional setback, as the agency tries to establish itself as an autonomous continental health agency.

David Adetula, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Public Health Interest Group Africa (PHIGA), described Ouma as “a huge inspiration to me, and millions of young Africans who are passionate about fixing the continent’s health systems. Your contribution, to bringing youths to the table, stands tall.”

Ouma’s legacy at Africa CDC

Ouma led the continent through the final stages of the COVID pandemic as well as the 2022 global mpox health emergency.  In both episodes he quickly made a name for himself, asserting a strong role for the Africa health agency.

He argued with WHO over the right of Africa CDC to  declare continental health emergencies – in cases where WHO’s own legal powers relate solely to global health emergency declarations. Ouma also demanded more mpox diagnostics and vaccine allocations for Africa – where the disease is endemic but medical tools to prevent and treat it remain largely unavailable.

Dr Ahmed Ogwell Ouma at press briefing in June 2022 as Africa CDC’s acting director asserts the continent should be top priority for vaccine doses for monkeypox.

Kaseya acknowledged Ouma’s remarkable tenure at the Africa CDC, stating that he was instrumental in navigating the center “through unprecedented times”, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Kaseya also recognized Ouma’s  critical role in laying the groundwork for the AU decision in February 2022 to elevate Africa CDC’s status from a technical arm of the AU to an autonomous public health agency.

Ouma, joined Africa CDC in September 2019 as deputy director, a position he held till May 2022 when he became the acting director following the departure of John Nkengasong for a job in the United States as head of PEPFAR, the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief. Nkengasong built the agency from an AU department into a quasi-autonomous entity, a pathway that Ouma continued in his year-long tenure.

After Kaseya, a Congolese national, took on the post as Africa CDC’s director in mid-2023, Ouma then became acting deputy director once again.  Prior to arriving at Africa CDC, Ouma held several leadership positions in the World Health Organization, including as a senior advisor to WHO’s Director General on non-communicable diseases

Last week, Ogwell was at Harvard completing a Rockefeller Foundation seminar on “executive leadership”.

Reflecting and looking ahead

Speaking to Health Policy Watch on the sidelines of the recently held third International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA 2023), Ouma expressed pride in the current status of Africa CDC, noting its evolution into a globally trusted leader in pandemic response. 

He also highlighted the institution’s growth from humble beginnings to its central role in leading public health responses on the continent, while also spearheading partnerships and initiatives such as Saving Lives and Livelihoods partnership between Africa CDC and the Mastercard Foundaiton which sought to scale up COVID vaccination on the continent, and lay the groundwork for local vaccine manufacturing.

Ouma emphasized the importance of building and maintaining public health capacity on the continent, with the Africa CDC facilitating coordination and networking among African countries. He noted progress in establishing Public Health Emergency Operation Centers at the country level to ensure real-time information access, laboratory readiness, and expert deployment. Ouma stressed the need to reinforce these efforts to enhance Africa’s preparedness for future outbreaks.

“Africa CDC’s role is to ensure that countries are networked. Having a public health emergency operation center is a sure way for countries to maintain the infrastructure developed at Africa CDC,” Ouma told Health Policy Watch.

Looking ahead, Ouma stated that Africa CDC’s experiences during the pandemic provide valuable lessons for future interventions. He emphasized the organization’s aim to continue building resilience, prioritizing local needs, and selecting appropriate implementing partners to strengthen health security in Africa.

He also emphasized the importance of not waiting for everything to be in place before taking action.  

“Don’t wait for everything to be in place before you act. When you want to save lives, you start saving lives with what you have, and you fix it as you go along,” he said.

Image Credits: Paul Adepoju.

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