Nine months after John Nkengasong left Africa CDC to head PEPFAR, the African Union has now chosen a Director-General for the continent’s leading public health institution – who will be tasked with finding new ways to engage continental and global leaders in African public health. challenges in the post-COVID era.
A new general director has been appointed Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). He is 53-year-old Jean Kaseya, a citizen of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who also has a history as a seasoned international health professional, with previous posts at the World Health Organization, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Access Initiative. Health Clinton.
Confirming his appointment, Kaseya immediately UNDERLINING his intention to work closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) on challenges ranging from expanding universal health coverage in Africa, to strengthening domestic productive capacity as well as disease surveillance in the post-Covid era.
“Today, after confirmation, my first call was to Dr Moeti, Regional Director, WHO/AFRO region to reiterate my commitment to work closely with WHO to address health issues in Africa,” he said, leaving aside the rift that erupted between the Africa CDC and WHO last summer over the degree of autonomy the Africa CDC should have in declaring regional public health emergencies.
was the case appointed by African heads of state following the elections that took place on the sidelines of the 36th session of the African Union, which was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, February 18-19. While a total of 180 candidates competed for the position, the candidate from the DRC as well as another contestant from Guinea were the finalists for the position.
Kaseya’s victory was seen as a diplomatic coup for Kinshasa, which has faced repeated bouts of deadly Ebola outbreaks over the past five years while also facing a proxy war with M-25 rebels in its region. eastern.
In a statement by the DRC presidency, the government DESCRIBED Kaseya’s appearance as “an epilogue to a long secret diplomatic battle waged for six months by President Félix Tshisekedi”.
Finding new opportunities to promote public health priorities
But now that Kaseya has been appointed to the position, he will face a daunting set of challenges in advancing a “new public health order” for Africa, according to the CDC’s Africa strategy elaborated in recent months, Javier said. Guzman, Director of Global Health Policy at the Center for Global Development. Kaseya will need to find new ways to make the CDC and its public health priorities stand out in the post-Covid era—among the many other challenges facing Africa in trade, finance , climate change and diplomacy.
Nkengasong, a seasoned public health professional with prior experience at the US Centers for Disease Control, led the African agency to unprecedented prominence during the pandemic. He organized weekly press conferences on the pandemic and positioned the agency as a leader in arranging the financing and distribution of COVID vaccines, and later, their production locally. He also worked with AU member states to strengthen disease surveillance and reporting capacity, not only for SARS-CoV2, but beyond.
But COVID-19 is no longer the priority it used to be, Guzman noted. Instead, many countries are now preoccupied with a growing debt and fiscal crisis, as well as many other competing priorities. They include accelerating the African Continental Free Trade Area, high on the agenda at the 36th AU Assembly, as well as dealing with the growing effects of climate change and the war in Ukraine on food security and beyond.
“Dr Kaseya must bring a clear and focused vision to the Africa CDC agenda, ensure financial sustainability and build efficient operations, proactively restore the continental/regional balance and ensure the CDC’s place in Africa within a changing global health architecture. He will have the challenging task of maintaining Africa CDC’s status as the main public health institution for the continent and fulfilling the promise of an autonomous public health agency, a status granted by the African Union Assembly in February 2022,” said Guzman.
From GP to CDC in Africa
With a mix of national and international public health experience, Kaseya has a background that is, in some ways, similar to Nkengasong when he assumed the CDC position in Africa in 2017.
Kaseya began his career as a general practitioner at the General Hospital in Kinshasa, DRC. In June 1998, he became Chief of the Kahemba Health Zone in the DRC’s Bandundu Province, which lies northeast of the capital Kinshasa. The following year, he became head of immunization at the DRC Ministry of Health, supporting the national, regional and district levels in the planning, implementation, supervision and monitoring of mass campaigns for polio, measles, tetanus, yellow fever and complementing vitamin A.
In this capacity, he also supported the national, regional and district levels for ea planning, supervision, monitoring and evaluation Expanded Program on Immunization promoted by WHO, building on the momentum of the smallpox eradication effort to ensure that children everywhere can receive a core set of life-saving vaccines. Participation in national meetings and technical commissions brought him greater prominence on a national scale.
In July 2000, Kaseya became Senior Health Advisor to the DRC president. In this role, he advised the president on health and youth issues, including social development, social protection and youth empowerment.
“I had to develop the President’s vision and draft his speeches related to these sectors. I had to review relevant policies and documents submitted by the Government to facilitate approval and signature by the President. I had to attend national and international meetings to discuss the President’s vision around health, education and youth empowerment,” Kaseya said.
He has also worked with the US CDC, USAID, the Global Fund and UNICEF, leading multi-million dollar projects in malaria, HIV/AIDS and primary health care. At Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Kaseya served as the country representative and head of a Gavi-funded NGO project implementation consortium that also includes the Red Cross and Rotary.
In January 2008, Kaseya joined WHO as technical coordinator for the Organization’s Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP). The following year, he joined Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance as a senior program manager, leading the GAVI program for African countries.
Most recently, he worked with the Clinton Health Access Initiative as Senior Country Director for DRC and as Global Team Leader for the initiative’s African Health Diagnostics Platform/European Investment Bank project. In this capacity, he was responsible for increasing access to quality, reliable and affordable diagnostic services in sub-Saharan African countries.
From Nkengasong to Kaseya
When John Nkengasong formally left the Africa CDC in May 2022 following his confirmation by the US Senate to lead the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Nkengasong described Africa’s CDC as an already “frightening” agency of public health. A few weeks later, the Executive Council of the African Union ADOPTED an amended charter for Africa CDC as an autonomous health body.
Africa CDC’s promotion to a more independent status was not without controversy. An internal memo circulated by the WHO raised concerns on proposals to empower the African health body to declare a regional “Continental Security Public Health Emergency” as part of the agency’s elevated status.
While the process of appointing a new general director was underway, the center’s acting director, Dr. Ahmed Ogwell Ouma led the center in developing a strategy for a “new public health order“. INTER among others, the strategy aims to strengthen African institutions for public health, strengthen the public health workforce, expand local production of health products, increase domestic investment in health and promote action-oriented partnerships and respect.
Better, a Kenyan epidemiologist, reportedly sought but failed to secure permanent appointment as CDC director. However, the pillars of the “new public health order” are also expected to remain guiding principles for a Kaseya-led leadership.
Image credits: Presidency, DRC, DRC Presidency.
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