By Aregu Balleh
Dr. Marie Goreti Harakeye, Head of HIV/AIDS, TB & OID Division Under the AU Department of Social Affairs
The African Union (AU) is planning to establish a pan-African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (African CDC) by mid-2015.
First proposed by Ethiopia and approved by the AU Commission in 2013 at the 22nd ordinary session in Abuja, Nigeria, the idea of establishing the Centre has since been discussed in a series of AU summits and extraordinary sessions, says Dr. Marie Goreti Harakeye, Head of HIV/AIDS, TB & OID Division Under the AU Department of Social Affairs.
The Commission came to a decision to establish an African CDC by taking into consideration the health challenges faced by the continent and the necessity for an accountability framework for health security to protect citizens of Africa and beyond, according to Dr. Harakeye.
The Commission was therefore convinced of the urgent need to put in place a structure to support member countries in their efforts to effectively respond to emergencies, address health challenges and build needed capacity.
According to a draft document which was approved at the 24th AU summit, the Centre will have the mission of addressing priority health concerns in Africa first through prevention and where needed, through detection and response.
“The African CDC will serve as a platform for member states to share knowledge, exchange lessons learned, build capacity and provide technical assistance to each other,” Dr. Harakeye stated, adding,”The African CDC is an African owned that member states hold ultimate responsibility over the public health services within the borders.”
The Centre will establish event based surveillance in order to detect potential disease threats from informal sources, assist member states to address gaps in international health regulation compliance, support public health emergency preparedness and response, and support regional and country level hazard mapping and risk assessments for member states.
The 24th ordinary summit of the AU, which was predominated by the Ebola outbreak, recommended that the Centre be established as a specialized institution of the AU Commission with a secretariat residing within the department of Social Affairs; and its oversight be from a governing board that includes Ministers of Health, representatives from the AU Commission, and external partners, Dr. Harakeye explains.
The establishment of the Centre will be carried out on a phase by phase basis, and a running cost of five million USD and a minimum staff of 10-15 are needed for the first phase, according to Harakeye.
Dr. Harakeye, who emphasized the importance of mobilizing the private sector and other partners for the Centre’s operation, added that supports have already been obtained from the US and China CDCs, and other partners including WHO.
“With Ebola, Africa was not prepared, the billions spent to control Ebola outbreak could have been spent for prevention if the preparedness plan was there,” she said.
Establishing a surveillance system to diseases such as Polio, Ebola and Avian Flu will be the Centre’s priority; but in the long term, it will also build its capacity to prevent and respond to natural disasters and bioterrorism, she added.
“The establishment of the African CDC was long awaited and will help in addressing emergencies in a timely and effective manner,” says Dr. Solomon Nwaka, Executive of the African Network of Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation (ANDI), and who also served as head of various R& D units at WHO.
Dr. Amha Haile, Managing Director of YEROAM Consultancy, a private consultancy firm on public health told The Ethiopian Herald that the establishment of an African CDC will leverage the health care system in the continent in many ways.
He said the Centre will create an opportunity for Africa to focus on building its own diagnostics, research, professional and technical capacity in the health sector by tapping into available resources. This will in turn help the continent to respond to epidemics before causing damages.
“Whenever epidemics like Ebola breakout, specimens are sent to the CDCs in Europe or the United States for diagnosis. This makes responses difficult and as a result many lives and resources are lost,” he said adding that the establishment of the Centre would also strengthen research centres at national level.
“Africa needs its own CDC more than the US needs its because of the fact that Africa is highly vulnerable to communicable diseases and epidemics,” said Dr. Amha.
The establishment of the Centre is also an opportunity for the African Union, which has so far been preoccupied with political matters, to support the health sector in the continent, he added.