2021-09-22 00:17:46 John Nkengasong, of the Africa C.D.C., Will Lead PEPFAR
John Nkengasong, of the Africa C.D.C., Will Lead PEPFAR
“He’s a very strong public health leader with many years of experience, and he would bring great connectivity to African leaders and community partners,” said Dr. Chris Beyrer, a public health and human rights professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (Dr. Beyrer was one of several candidates considered for the position.)
President George W. Bush launched PEPFAR, the largest public health program in the United States, in 2003. Since its inception, the United States government has invested more than $85 billion in more than 50 countries, resulting in the estimated saving of 20 million lives.
The scheme’s funds are used to support HIV prevention programs, testing, and antiretroviral therapy. Some directors have been too heavy-handed in establishing priorities for African nations, so a leader like Dr. Nkengasong, who knows and is trusted by Africans, is a welcome change, according to experts.
“Having someone who is a known figure both in the United States and around the world, and in Africa, is a sign that they are taking this seriously — that they understand that raising up African leadership is really important,” said Gregg Gonsalves, a longtime HIV activist and epidemiologist at Yale School of Public Health.
Dr. Nkengasong was born in Cameroon, which has a high prevalence of H.I.V. and tuberculosis. He has also been outspoken in his support for training local scientists and doctors to lead public health and research efforts on the continent. He was a founding member of the African Society for Laboratory Medicine in 2011.
The government of Cameroon knighted Dr. Nkengasong in November 2018 for his contributions to public health. He advises the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, among other organizations. He was named to Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in 2021 for his role in the Covid-19 pandemic.
The only disadvantage of Dr. Nkengasong’s leadership of PEPFAR is that he is also needed to combat other infectious disease efforts in Africa, according to Mr. Gonsalves: “It’s a loss for Africa C.D.C.”