John Nkengasong is to be the inaugural director of the African Union’s Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, it was announced on 30 November.
Nkengasong is a veteran on the global health scene. His most recent position was as head of the global health centre of the US CDC, which is partnering with the AU to create its African counterpart.
He was born in Cameroon but obtained all his qualifications in Belgium before spending two decades with the CDC. He chaired the laboratory technical working group of the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and was the founding chair of the African Society for Laboratory Medicine.
Commenting on his appointment, Nkengasong said the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa and its dramatic economic effects underscored the need for coordinated disease response on the continent. “The Africa CDC therefore offers a unique possibility to enhance the continent’s capacity to detect and rapidly respond to these threats in order to make Africa secure and safe,” he said in a statement.
The AU announced that it would establish an African CDC in April 2015, but implementation has been sluggish. African governments did not approve funding until 20 July this year. On 5 August the centre issued its first report, on the dangers of the Zika virus during the Rio Olympics.
Several international bodies have reacted positively to the appointment, including the World Health Organization where Nkengasong once held a senior position.
“John’s leadership in public health emergency preparedness and response is undeniable, and WHO Africa is committed to working alongside him and his team,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, in a statement.
The head of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK also welcomed the appointment. “Dr Nkengasong’s experience and knowledge of public health in Africa make him the ideal candidate to lead the Africa CDC,” said Peter Piot in a statement.