By Boris Esono Nwenfor
Leading Virologist with nearly thirty (30) years of experience in public health Dr John Nkengasong is tipped to be appointed by US President Joe Biden to lead the President’s Plan for Aid Reliefs, (PEPFAR) according to The New York Times.
The Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Africa CDC, since 2016 has decades of experience in the fight against global health issues with the Cameroonian having had long stints at the World Health Organization, WHO, and the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr John Nkengasong is thus the first person of African descent to take up this position which is tied to the Department of State.
“He is a very strong public health leader with many years of experience, and would bring great connectivity to African leaders and community partners,” Dr Chris Beyrer, a professor of public health and human rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told New York Times.
Dr Nkengasong will thus have a lot ahead of him looking at the recent report on the testing for HIV and prevention services. In 2020, the number of people who went for HIV testing decreased by 22 per cent compared to 2019 and that statistic is also worrisome as those who opted for HIV prevention services also fell by 12 per cent.
“To have somebody who is known figure both in the US and around the world, AND IN Africa, is a sign that they are taking this seriously… that they understand that raising African leadership is important,” Gregg Gonsalves, a longtime HIV activist and am epidemiologist at the Yale School, of Public Health, said as quoted by the New York Times.
Dr John Nkengasong has been a leading African figure in the fight against COVID-19. He has led numerous calls on the equitable distribution of vaccines to African countries and also lead the calls for the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine patent to be made available to African countries o they could be able to produce it.
Earlier this year, Dr Nkengasong was appointed as one of the WHO Director-General’s Special Envoys on COVID-19 Preparedness and response.
President’s Plan for Aid Reliefs, PEPFAR, is a 7 billion dollars operation that funds and sets goals for AIDS care in many nations, most of them in Africa.
“This is a huge led forward for the US government to name someone from a region where much of PEPFAR’s work is. It shows a commitment to truly listening to and learning from the people PEPFAR is meant to serve,” Mitchell Warren, Executive Director of AVAC, a non-profit organization promoting HIV treatment worldwide said.
PEPFAR is the largest public health programme in the United States and was set up by former president George W. Bush in 2003. Since then, the US government has invested more than 85 billion dollars in more than 50 countries, saving an estimated 20 million lives according to reports.
The funds made available are geared towards schemes that support prevention programmes, testing and antiretroviral therapy for HIV. Dr John Nkengasong is thus well-placed to lead projects that will touch on the lives of Africans, something which other Directors had been accused of failing to come up with meaningful projects for Africans.
Who is Dr John Nkengasong?
Dr John Nkengasong is the current and first Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Africa CDC. Before his appointment with Africa CDC, he was Deputy Principal Director (acting) of the Centre for Global Health at the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and Associate Director of Laboratory Science and Chief of the International Laboratory Branch at the Division of Global HIV/AIDS and TB.
Earlier in his career (1993-1995), Dr Nkengasong worked as Chief of Virology Laboratory at the Collaborating Centre on HIV Diagnostics at the Department of Microbiology, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium, and later joined US CDC in 1994 as Chief of Virology Laboratory in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
Dr John Nkengasong is an adjunct professor at the Emory School of Public Health and has received numerous awards for his work including the Sheppard Award, the William Watson Medal of Excellence, the highest recognition awarded by the CDC. In September 2020, he was honoured with the 2020 Goalkeepers Global Goalkeepers Award.
He is also the recipient of the Knight of Honour Medal by the Government of Ivory Coast and was knighted in 2017 as the Officer of Loin by the President of Senegal and was knighted in November 2018 by the government of Cameroon for his significant contribution to public health.