The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is teaming up with the African Union Commission to launch a continent-wide agency for monitoring and controlling infectious disease outbreaks.
The African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention will support African ministries of health and other agencies in preventing, detecting and responding to disease outbreaks, according to a CDC press release. The institute, which will be based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was created through a memorandum of cooperation signed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, chair of the African Union Commission.
The concept of a collaborative disease authority emerged from HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria summit in July 2013. African Union officials will launch the new agency later this year with the establishment of a continent-wide surveillance and response unit that will help member states respond to public health emergencies.
“The African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (African CDC) will help African countries effectively monitor public health, respond to public health emergencies, address complex health challenges, and build needed capacity,” Dr. Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement.
Public health experts in the U.S. welcomed the new emphasis in the government's public health aid programs in Africa. Allowing African countries to manage their own infectious disease control efforts is a capacity-building model with more long-term potential than throwing money and aid at public health problems, said Gary Harper, professor of health behavior and health education at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
“A lot of times you see that outside folks come in with expertise and knowledge, they lack the cultural knowledge and understanding on the ground to make things work,” Harper said. “You have to really collaborate with those individuals with whom you're trying to provide services.”to local control of
The launch of the African CDC comes just a week after the New York Times reported that only 28 Ebola patients have been treated at the 11 treatment units built by the the United States military, nine of which never saw a single patient.
The new program will deploy field epidemiologists in five regional centers in the five AU geographic regions in addition to the African CDC Coordinating Center in Addis Ababa. Two CDC staffers will serve as long-term technical and strategic guidance to the organization.
The U.S. public health agency will also support 10 fellowships for African epidemiologists working in the headquarters and regional centers. The CDC did not provide an estimate of the program's cost.
African populations tend to be mobile, which can lead to issues when diseases are transmitted between countries' borders, said Dr. Rachel Idowu, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC's Center for Global Health. International cooperation is crucial when trying to curb outbreaks of Ebola and other infectious diseases.
“There can be value added to the way a country responds when they're able to work effectively with their neighbors,” Idowu said. “It makes it possible for regions as a whole to work together, share data and address issues at the national level, but also have regional significance.”
Countries in Europe and the Caribbean have formed similar groups over the past decade. Regional organizations are particularly useful in sharing resources like lab networks or manpower, Idowu said.
Though the CDC will offer expertise and strategic assistance, Idowu emphasized that the trajectory of the African CDC lies solely with the African Union and its member states.
“The beauty and the strength of the way the union has approached this initiative is that the initiative has been owned by member states since the very beginning,” Idowu said. “When they meet, they endorse these initiatives because they recognize that the activities will have direct impact on the way they deliver care.”