In July 2023 Africa CDC, WHO, and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) launched a Health Security Partnership intended to strengthen disease surveillance and epidemic intelligence across Africa. The areas of biosecurity, integrated disease surveillance, event-based surveillance, genomic surveillance, and epidemic intelligence will be central to these efforts. The partnership hopes to encourage “strong country leadership” as it moves to implement the first phase across six AU Member States: The Gambia, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Tunisia, and South Africa. It will later be expanded to additional countries.  

Surveillance brings security 

WHO states that strengthening disease surveillance is a “foundational requirement” for health security. Although “substantial progress” has been made in surveillance over the past decade, Africa “experiences more outbreaks” and health emergencies than other regions. Many of these could be prevented or controlled through “proven public health interventions”.  

From the COVID-19 it became clear that the public health laboratory plays a “critical role” in surveillance. Furthermore, advancements in data collection, management, reporting, and dissemination are necessary to facilitate evidence-based policy making in emergencies.  

Thus, the new Partnership works to improve integrated disease surveillance capabilities on the continent to “better detect, confirm, and notify health security threats”. Dr Yenew Kebede, Head of Laboratory Systems and Networks at Africa CDC, is pleased by the “significant milestone” that the launch meeting and multi-country project consultation represented. 

“It provides a platform for sharing experiences and best practices, which will be essential for the success of the project.” 

WHO and Africa CDC have already been working together through the Joint Emergency Preparedness and Response Action Plan (JEAP), a five-year strategic collaboration to “boost emergency preparedness and response efforts” throughout the continent, ensuring outbreaks are “efficiently” managed. The latest Partnership will contribute to the wider collaborative framework with “concrete results” in the areas of emergency preparedness and response and surveillance and laboratory capabilities, protecting the health of people in Africa through a “better coordinated and more resilient health system”.  

Sara Hersey, Director of Collaborative Intelligence at WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence, emphasised that WHO “remains dedicated” to working with Member States to “systematically strengthen our capabilities and collaboration” across “stakeholders, sectors, and borders”.  

“Our collective ability to prevent, prepare for, and respond to health security emergencies remains critical to keeping our communities safe.”  

This Partnership is launched just days after new appointments to ATC, perhaps signalling to the global community how seriously Africa CDC is taking disease surveillance and health security.