When dr. John Nkengasong became the first head of the new African Center for Disease Control in 2017, a part of the continent that has emerged from the devastating Ebola epidemic. Less than three years later, Covid-19 hit.
dr. Nkengsong is now trying to bring together governments from a vast and diverse continent to combat threats to public health and make them less dependent on international agencies such as the World Health Organization or the Red Cross.
They have helped Africa speak with one voice, more specifically what they call “vaccine hunger,” with rich countries buying millions of doses while Africa doesn’t need them.
Maybe Ebola was a sign that something bigger was happening, he said, and that something had turned into Covid-19. He also believes Covid-19 could be a harbinger of something even worse: an infected virus like the Delta version but with a higher death rate than Ebola.
CDC Africa was established in response to the Ebola epidemic with funding from the African Union and several other donors. When dr.
Nekensong, no office, no staff, or even the internet for months. It was shut down by the Ethiopian government to prevent people from cheating on university entrance exams.
But he said, “We can do public health under the tree. It really doesn’t matter. Concept issue. Are you defending inequality and health insurance?”
What was it like when Covid-19 first hit the continent?
I was on vacation in December 2019 and we heard a story about a virus in Wuhan. I called Addis Ababa and said, “Activate our emergency center.” I have received an early waiver from my own employees.
He said, “Well, that’s a distant thing. We have an epidemic going on in North Kivu. He said, “We’ve been very busy.” I said, “Please just do it because I knew it was coming.”
The continent started off well. We have positioned ourselves. We went upstairs. We train people. That may sound silly, but when we first trained in South Africa and Senegal, they all came home with a pack of 100 tests.