Africa CDC Deserves Self-Determination for Public Health Policies

In Eswatini, Ethiopia, Global Advocacy, Global Featured, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe by Fiona Ip

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) today objected to efforts by the World Health Organization (WHO) to rein in Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) autonomy in declaring regional health emergencies and other emergency public health powers – a move that is paternalistic and runs counter to the principles of self-determination enshrined in the UN system.

According to Devex, the United Nations, which oversees the WHO, is attempting to lobby “on what should be an African Union process, and if successful, it would block reform of Africa CDC and undermine its ability to respond to health crises and prevent pandemics.” This development came after a meeting of roughly 40 Africa health ministers last week where they discussed revisions to the statutes under which Africa CDC operates.

“It’s baffling to see the WHO, which has fumbled the ball on multiple international health emergencies, most notably the COVID-19 pandemic, is now attempting to block Africa CDC’s right to self-determination on matters of public health,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “Africa CDC had to prove its resolve after WHO failed the entire continent by its bungling of COVID-19 in Africa, including severe delays in delivering vaccines and allowing significant economic devastation to sweep the region. We wholeheartedly support Africa CDC’s right to determine its own actions on public health and emergencies. Through its mismanagement, WHO has forfeited its chance to be the arbiter of Africa’s health systems.”

Africa CDC and ministries of health must have the regional capacity to declare health emergencies based on technical and evidence-based processes, which WHO itself does not even have the power to do under its International Health Regulations. Continental emergency health declarations could mean the difference between quickly getting an outbreak under control or allowing disease to spread unchecked while waiting on official decisions thousands of miles away in Geneva.

“This attempt at control is a questionable act by the World Health Organization and a contradiction to their past condemnations of the imperialist mentality with which vaccines were being given to COVAX. Yet, this same move seems to have that same mindset,” said AHF Africa Bureau Chief Dr. Penninah Iutung. “We support African solutions for local problems and want African governments to be more accountable and take more ownership of the health of their people. Africa CDC can and should have the power to help them with that.”

The health ministers are due to reconvene again tomorrow to make a final recommendation on the amendments, which would then have to be decided on by the African Union Executive Council. If approved, Africa CDC would be able to focus on outbreaks endemic to Africa – there would be no change to the WHO’s global alert system.

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