Africa rallied along COVID-19 to reexamine future pandemic responses

Dec 15, 2021

John Nkengasong, the Director of Africa CDC, said the continent must strengthen home-grown interventions geared toward minimising strain on the public health systems. 

Regional leaders expected to attend CPHIA 2021 include Presidents Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo (Pictured) of DR Congo.

Hilary Bainemigisha
Editor @New Vision


The first-ever conference on public health in Africa closed its first day on December 14 with a call for more investment in Health, more co-operation and more self-sustenance in handling its own response to future pandemics.

The virtual conference, which was convened by the African Union and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), started on December 14 with more than 10,000 participants and will close on December 16.

Participants, who include political leaders, senior policymakers, scholars, advocates, and innovators will discuss how to create a new public health order for the continent, collaborative research, and enhanced surveillance to boost response to future pandemics.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission noted that Africa must learn from the Covid pandemic the need for a swift, well-coordinated response.

"The pandemic has created the urgency to build a resilient public health order in Africa. We need equitable health systems, research, training, and collaboration to boost response to the pandemic," said Mahamat.

He specifically pointed to improving Africa’s capacity to produce diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics amid disruptions in the global supply chains.

John Nkengasong, the Director of Africa CDC, said the continent must strengthen home-grown interventions geared toward minimising strain on the public health systems. 

He noted that the Covid impact in Africa was more than reported. 

He referred to a recent survey they carried out in 5 countries including Uganda where people were randomly checked for Covid 19. 

In Uganda, 5,500 people were randomly checked and 20% were sick or exposed. So, there are more cases than reported.

However, he recognized progress already saying Covid 19 has prepared Africa for better preparedness and response to future pandemics, citing realization of the dependence risk, revamped surveillance, improved infrastructure, training of local epidemiologists, and improved public awareness.

CPHIA 2021 comes at a time when COVID-19 has strained health systems globally, affecting Africa’s access to health services and products like vaccines, diagnostic kits and intervention products as well as exposing deep inequities in access to healthcare and scientific innovations. 

While the high-income countries are reporting 90% in the global goal of vaccinating at least 10% of the adult population, less than 20 African countries were compliant by September 30, 2021.

Prof. Senait Fisseha, CPHIA 2021 co-chair said the conference is creating the foundation that will allow Africa to usher in a new era for science, partnership, and innovation on the continent.

“The hope is that this will become the preeminent annual health gathering in Africa – where policymakers, researchers, advocates, community organizations and more come together to learn, address challenges and chart a path forward together. There are major changes ahead for health on the continent, and this is just the beginning,” said Fisseha, who is also the Director of Global Programs at The Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation

Another co-chair, Professor Agnes Binagwaho, who is also the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity, said Africa has some of the most sophisticated research institutions and talented scientists in the world.

“CPHIA 2021 will provide a platform to highlight our expert’s incredible contributions and allow for strengthened collaboration across sectors so we can better respond to current and future health crises and achieve health equity,” she said.

Day one had four sessions of 20 abstract presentations, which included Uganda’s Dr. Nicholas Bbosa, of Medical Research Council/Uganda Virus Research Institute who presented a topic: Genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in Uganda shows rapid replacement of variants, 2021.

Another Ugandan, Prof. Pauline Byakika-Kibwika of Makerere University IDI, was a Co-moderator of Session 2 of the Abstract presentation.

CPHIA 2021 is a virtual event and is free for all participants. 

It will feature seven scientific plenaries and eight parallel sessions, and more than 40 side events that focus on the main pillars of the African Union’s New Public Health Order to meet the aspirations of Agenda 2063 – the Africa We Want.

There are also 90 oral and poster abstract presentations, featuring research on COVID-19 epidemiology in Africa, the effectiveness of public health measures on the continent and the latest in disease modelling. 

On day two, December 15, CPHIA 2021 will discuss research capacity, advocacy, manufacturing and distribution of vaccination in Africa, the COVID-19 and equitable health system strengthening in Africa as well as the case for a New Public Health Order for Africa.

The special CPHIA session will be on ensuring access to Oral Therapeutics for COVID-19.

Regional leaders expected to attend CPHIA 2021 include Presidents Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo of DR Congo and Cyril Ramaphosa of the Republic of South Africa, who is also Chairman of AU. 

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda opened the conference with a keynote address today (Wednesday, December 15, 2021).

Other speakers will include Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and our own Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS.


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