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AU Elevates Africa CDC to Continental Public Health Agency

After taking a global leadership role in the fight against COVID-19, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) has been upgraded as the continent’s independent health agency by the African Union (AU).

The decision was announced during an AU Assembly in February. The Africa CDC previously operated as a technical arm of the AU. It now will be funded by the AU as an independent entity.

“Until now, Africa CDC was a specialized technical institution,” Dr. John Nkengasong, Africa CDC director, said during the assembly. “It will now be elevated into a full public health agency for the continent, which will be more or less autonomous.”

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, applauded the AU’s decision, saying it will give the Africa CDC power to make important decisions during health emergencies without having to “trudge through slower bureaucratic channels.”

“Empowering the Africa CDC to act on its own is a pivotal step toward making the region less dependent on the global north, improving regional responsiveness during outbreaks like COVID-19 and strengthening national health systems overall,” Dr. Penninah Iutung, AHF Africa’s bureau chief, said in a statement.

Before the upgrade, Nkengasong had to write memos and run them through a chain of command, causing delays in the center’s response to disease outbreaks. Now, the director of the CDC can deploy people to respond to outbreaks more swiftly.

The Africa CDC will continue to report to the AU Commission, but quarterly, similar to how the World Health Organization (WHO) reports to the United Nations, according to a report by Devex, a news organization that covers global development. African heads of state are expected help govern the Africa CDC.

“[WHO Director-General] Dr. Tedros doesn’t go to the [U.N.] Secretary-General [António] Guterres to get permission to do anything,” Nkengasong said in a report on

The AU also is looking at ways to streamline reporting mechanisms so that the Africa CDC can report about disease outbreaks directly to heads of state, allowing “full, timely access to anything that happens within the continent, so that they can provide policy guidance,” Nkengasong said in the Devex report.

Dr. Joses Kirigia, program area coordinator for research, publications and library services for the WHO regional office for Africa, characterized the Africa CDC’s boost as “fantastic news.”

“The autonomous status will give Africa CDC some level [of] independence and objectivity in executing its mandate of working in collaboration with national and international health research systems to safeguard Africa’s population health,” Kirigia wrote on Twitter.

The Africa CDC was launched in January 2017 to establish early warning and response platforms to address all health threats and natural disasters on the continent.

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