A CDC for Africa

But the body modeled after the U.S. agency needs funding

Credit: Deshi Deng

More than 65 years ago Americans found a way to ensure that no one would have to die from malaria ever again. The disease was eliminated in the U.S. in 1951, thanks to strategies created through the Office of Malaria Control in War Areas, formed in 1942, and the Communicable Disease Center (now the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), founded in 1946.

The idea for Africa’s own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) was devised in 2013 and formalized after the worst Ebola outbreak in history the following year. The Africa CDC, which was officially launched in January of this year, is a growing partnership that aims to build countries’ capacity to help create a world that is safe and secure from infectious disease threats.

Just as Americans made the formation of their CDC a priority, Africans have a responsibility to ensure the funding and development of our CDC to keep diseases from further altering the course of our socioeconomic transformation. Ebola is terrifying to many people, but malaria is a more devastating illness: the latest World Health Organization statistics show that more than 400,000 people died from the disease in 2015, and 92 percent of those deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. Further, six countries in Africa account for 47 percent of all global malaria cases.

Based on my years of working for organizations such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the United Nations Development Program, the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa and the Africa Against Ebola Solidarity Trust, I see three priorities that are needed to make a major impact on ending malaria:

First, we must strengthen and build mechanisms to gather real-time data from communities across Africa for informed decision making. The expansion of mobile phones is an important method for achieving this because they can connect people and their health data for targeted interventions to prevent and arrest outbreaks. The Africa CDC and its five Regional Collaborating Centers must lead the transition that would ensure consistent data collection, dissemination and interpretation.

Second, we must make new resources available to support the Africa CDC. Ebola’s economic cost to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the focus of the outbreak, was up to $4 billion. The African private sector raised $34 million to end Ebola for good. This momentum needs to continue for an African-funded CDC. Some African countries and similar health organizations across the world have provided initial resources for the Africa CDC to launch, but it is not enough. Africans have a responsibility to fund another $34 million over the next two years to make Africa safer and stronger for economic growth.

Third, we must invest in other ways to end malaria. The private sector and the middle class it creates are the key to ending the disease for good. We will not achieve that without universal health coverage through a fully funded and operational Africa CDC.

There are already positive signs that recent increases in resources, political determination and communities’ commitments are leading to the possibility of malaria’s elimination and, ultimately, its eradication. In Senegal, for example, now only 3.3 percent of outpatient visits are malaria-related, down from 36 percent more than 15 years ago. While the transformation is impressive, full elimination in Senegal and other countries cannot be achieved without regional and continental efforts supported by stronger data and evidence.

Malaria and other preventable diseases continue to challenge our ability to transform our economies at the pace required to support our population growth. Ultimately, for Africa to achieve malaria eradication, it is necessary to translate the Africa CDC’s mandate from the African Union into a funded mechanism to inform health investment.

Ending malaria was the impetus that led to a strong and reliable cdc in the U.S., and now Africa has an opportunity to repeat that success—ideally by 2030, when the world gathers to assess progress toward achieving the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. We have the opportunity to save many, many lives through the Africa CDC. Let’s make it happen.