Officials at the African Union Commission (AUC) and the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa (WHO/AFRO) are looking to address the shortcomings of the international response to the Ebola crisis by launching a new disease monitoring agency, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Africa (African CDC).
Africa has the world's highest burden of disease, with far higher mortality rates for infectious diseases than any other region. Many of the diseases impacting Africa are less common, or have been eradicated, in other parts of the world, including malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, meningitis, polio and typhoid.
Outbreaks such as Ebola, which has caused more than 11,000 deaths since being confirmed in March 2014, have brought to light the inadequacies in the established international structures to combat disease epidemics. An independent panel recently criticized WHO's response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa last year, saying WHO was slow to act and did not have adequate emergency-response systems in place to handle an epidemic of this magnitude.
According to Nature, the African CDC has been planned in Africa since 2013. Those plans kicked into gear following an announcement on 13 April 2015 by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chair of the AUC, that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will "provide the [African CDC] with technical expertise and advice."
WHO says the African CDC is being launched to "put in place structures to support African countries and contribute in efforts to effectively prevent, predict, detect and respond to emergencies, and build the needed capacity to protect communities across the African continent."
Once established, the agency will open five regional offices. WHO says the agency's focus will be on Event Based Surveillance (EBS), which will rely on gathering information from various media and reporting systems to identify public health threats.
While reactions to the new agency have been mostly positive, some experts have questioned whether the African CDC will be able to meet its stated goals without increasing the budget and staff of the agency. As of now, the African CDC's budget from July 2015 to December 2016 is only $6.9 million (USD) and the agency may have as few as 11 staff.
WHO Press Release, Nature