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Global Health Security in Africa: Collaborations Between CDC and African Partners

Posted on by Thomas Kenyon, MD MPH, Director of CDC Center for Global Health
2012 investigation of Ebola virus in Uganda
2012 investigation of Ebola virus in Uganda
Thomas Kenyon, MD MPH, Director of CDC Center for Global Health
Thomas Kenyon, MD MPH, Director of CDC Center for Global Health

The ambition and scope of the Global Health Security Agenda are clear. Its reach can be discerned from the very first word: global. The Agenda’s overarching goal is just as expansive—making the world safer and more secure by preventing epidemics and outbreaks, detecting them more rapidly, and responding effectively to lessen the health, economic, and societal consequences from disease threats.

Less obvious, but no less true, is that African ownership will be central and fundamental in shaping the way the Global Health Security Agenda evolves worldwide, the way it is enacted and refined, and to a large extent, how it succeeds.

CDC and African nations have been close and successful partners for many decades in the battle to protect and improve public health. In many ways, the concepts, practices, and tools that are central to the Global Health Security Agenda are drawn from experiences honed with our partners in Africa over many years.

The needs—and justification—for this enhanced approach are beyond dispute. New diseases are occurring and spreading, drug resistance is rising, and more laboratories are working with dangerous bacteria and viruses. In today’s compressed world, it’s no exaggeration to say the next disease threat is only a plane ride away. It’s also true that there are dangerous gaps in detection, response, and prevention that must be closed.

The lessons from our collaborative work in Africa illuminate and inform our thinking and actions. It’s also true that accomplishments have already been achieved as a result of strong and longstanding partnerships between the U.S. and African nations to prevent the spread of diseases. In 2013, for example, CDC collaborated with partners in Uganda to strengthen lab systems, improve the capacity of emergency operation centers, and work toward real-time data sharing in health emergencies.

For years, CDC has worked with many partners and countries across Africa to develop Field Epidemiology Training Programs (FETP) to train field epidemiologists. These programs are very important in building capacity for detecting and responding to health threats and developing systems that can help quickly detect diseases and prevent them from spreading. CDC’s Sub-Saharan Africa FETPs have responded to outbreaks ranging from polio in Cameroon and Nigeria, monkeypox in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Lassa fever in Nigeria.

More needs to be done however.

An Ebola isolation ward in Conakry, Guinea
An Ebola isolation ward in Conakry, Guinea

With the current Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and diseases like cholera and typhoid affecting thousands in Africa, it is more important than ever to improve public health systems through a coordinated surveillance and effective response.

It’s fair to ask: Would a fully realized and implemented Global Health Security Agenda have prevented the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which now is the largest in history? Probably not. Would it have made a difference? Most would say yes in terms of saving lives, through earlier detection, an early alert and communication system, and a more coordinated response by a wider collection of nations equipped with Emergency Operations Centers operating with more universal rules and standards. Each of those goals is a central element of the Global Health Security Agenda.

Enhancing global health security is a priority for the U.S. government and for CDC. Yet the U.S. government cannot achieve global health security alone. It needs to be a priority for every nation because we all share common risks. Global health security is a shared responsibility as well. Just as it’s been for years with our partners in Africa and we look forward to making that partnership even stronger in the years ahead.

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Posted on by Thomas Kenyon, MD MPH, Director of CDC Center for Global HealthTags , , , ,

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