Accelerating action on Africa’s health agenda: Here's everything you need to know

Africa CDC’s New Public Health Order champions initiatives and investments across critical areas of health policy and practice on the African continent.

A medical practitioner sitting at a desk. Credit: Thirdman on Pexels
A medical practitioner sitting at a desk. Credit: Thirdman on Pexels


The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a public health agency of the African Union, is leading the charge to improve African health outcomes through its vision of a New Public Health Order for the continent.

It is championing initiatives and investments across critical areas of health policy and practice. These include a well-supported workforce; adequate domestic financing; robust technical skills; efficient data management; digital transformation; and reliable regional procurement.

Improving Africa's health systems requires intensive investment in the human resources that deliver quality healthcare. Africa CDC's workforce development programmes provide expert training for various cadres, including policy leaders, epidemiologists, researchers and scientists, laboratory technicians, nurses, and community health workers.

We will continue to work with our member states to increase investment in frontline health workers, particularly community health workers. We will also accelerate action to close the gender gap in health leadership and better support the female health workforce that forms the backbone of the continent's health systems.

Financing Africa's health systems

In September 2022, Africa CDC convened African leaders on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly to jointly commit to capacity building of the health workforce, facilitating the release of a Heads of State and Government communique titled "Reimagining Health Workforce Development for Africa's Health Security". The communique emphasized investment in health workers; domestic financing for workforce investment; and improved monitoring, evaluation, and learning around the health workforce and its broader socioeconomic impact.

We also convened the inaugural Ministerial Executive Leadership Programme (MELP) Forum on the margins of the 36th African Union (AU) Summit in February this year to support health ministers in refining their political strategy for transformative leadership on the continent and beyond.

Financing health systems in Africa is the foremost concern – the World Bank estimates Africa needs between $2 billion and $3.5 billion a year for epidemic preparedness. Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3 – healthy lives and well-being for all ages – requires sub-Saharan African countries to spend, on average, 7.5% of the region's GDP, or $271 per capita per year on health, according to the World Health Organization. The current average spend is $189.

With a significant portion of current funding coming from donors, there is a need to increase contributions from AU member states. An African Epidemic Fund was approved in 2022 by the AU Assembly to allow rapid deployment of resources during a health emergency. The operational modalities of the fund, including the structure, responsibilities and functions await approval at the Ordinary Session of the AU Executive Council that will take place in July this year.

Africa CDC's technical and direct support to National Public Health Institutes (NPHIs) will further improve Africa's disease response capabilities and champion full continental surveillance coverage through upgraded and functional national Public Health Emergency Operations Centers (PHEOCs). Sustaining the increased capacity of NPHIs and PHEOCs requires strong political will and long-term investment in building the systems, processes and expertise needed to enable their effective functioning. We will therefore continue to advocate higher allocations and more systematic disbursements for health ministries, agencies and workers in member states' national budgets.

Digital opportunities

Member states have reiterated the urgency and necessity of establishing data-sharing platforms for enhanced surveillance mechanisms and fully functional Africa CDC Regional Coordinating Centers (RCCs). We have developed a regional data-sharing agreement allowing member states to share real-time data with Africa CDC, Regional Economic Communities (RECs), Regional Health Organizations, and other relevant stakeholders.

Further development of RCCs and efficient, networked laboratory systems is a key priority for Africa CDC. One such initiative strengthening laboratory networks in the region is our Pathogen Genomics Initiative. Africa PGI's activities include rolling out a pan-African public health surveillance and laboratory network based on pathogen genomic sequencing for outbreak investigations and improved disease control and prevention. To date, nine regional and specialized hubs and 11 national (nodal) labs have been established.

The new digital era brings boundless opportunities to enhance the speed and accuracy with which we can detect and respond to potential outbreaks and monitor ongoing public health challenges. The establishment of the Trusted Travel portal during COVID-19 is a great showcase of the value of digital health in harmonizing and standardizing processes across countries. We are prioritizing technological advancements that put people at the centre, such as digitizing primary care delivery, connected diagnostics and telemedicine, powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. We are also banking on better tools to improve collaboration, communication, and better protection, sharing and utilization of health data.

To harness these advancements, we have developed our Africa CDC Digital Transformation Strategy that was launched on March 6 at the Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC2023), which Africa CDC co-convened with Amref Health Africa, in Kigali, Rwanda. We call on member states and partners to join hands in the implementation of the strategy.

Recently, we signed two important agreements – with Smart Africa in September 2022 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, and with the GSM Association (GSMA) in March. These agreements aim to fast-track the connectivity of the health sector, accelerate innovation, and co-host convenings that bring together the digital health community with policymakers, investors, innovators and influencers to chart a common path forward.

We believe that Africa stands at the cusp of a digital health revolution that has the power to harness accessibility, quality and affordability of health services, the same way mobile finance expanded financial inclusion over the last 10 years.

One of the key pillars of the New Public Health Order is the local manufacturing of health products – from diagnostics and therapeutics to vaccines and non-pharmaceutical products. Local manufacturing within the African context must be relevant from a public health perspective, where we also know that the classic pharma model of large margins on smaller volumes will not work in Africa – it has to be larger volumes with smaller margins to be sustainable.

Africa CDC has developed a continental plan and has begun implementation under the Partnership for Africa Vaccines Manufacturing (PAVM) Framework for Action (FFA), as well as the Africa Collaborative Initiative to Advance Diagnostics (AfCAD). We are currently working on separate plans for the manufacturing of therapeutics and non-pharmaceutical products to achieve the vision of local manufacturing in Africa. We therefore welcome the announcement that the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is the focus of the African Union for 2023. We are pleased that the AfCFTA secretariat has as one of its core priorities, the strengthening of the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector in Africa and Africa CDC is committed to supporting this. Africa CDC will work closely with the AfCFTA secretariat to decrease Africa's dependence on imported health products.

The newly gained autonomy of Africa CDC, the establishment of the Africa Epidemics Fund, and an expanding and well trained workforce are symbolic and practical reflections of the anticipated growth in the coming years. Africa CDC will continue to deliver bold, strong leadership to realize the New Public Health Order, and coordinate member states and partners for accelerated progress.

Written by

Ahmed Ogwell Ouma Director ad interim, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC)


This article was originally published by the World Economic Forum on 11 April 2023.