CDC Africa Virologist Wins Boris Mints Award

On October 17, I was honored to be the master of ceremonies for a Zoom ceremony for the presentation of the $ 100,000 2021 Boris Mints Institute for Global Challenges award to Dr. John N. Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Control and Disease Prevention (CDC Africa).

The Boris Mints Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions for Global Challenges at Tel Aviv University was founded by philanthropist and Vice President of the World Jewish Congress, Dr. Boris Mints, who serves as its president, “to encourage research, planning and innovative thinking in order to promote significant positive change in the world. “

Dr. Nkengasong, a world-renowned virologist hailing from Cameroon and appointed Special Envoy of the World Health Organization for Africa, was honored “for his vital contribution to the development of an effective and evidence-based response to the pandemic. of COVID-19 in Africa. “

Africa CDC has led the fight against the unprecedented pandemic on the African continent, and Nkengasong said the body’s release in 2017 was serendipitous, two years before COVID-19 hit.

At the virtual ceremony, Nkengasong was praised by TAU President Professor Ariel Porat, who presented the award, as well as Professor Silvia Koton, Chair of the Award Evaluation Committee, Dr. Mints and Professor Itai Sened, Dean of the Gershon H Gordon of the Faculty of Social Sciences and director of BMI, who invited him to Israel.

John Nkengasong, Africa director for the Center for Disease Control (CDC), at the African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (credit: REUTERS / TIKSA NEGERI)

In his acceptance speech, Nkengasong provided an overview of the spread of COVID-19 in Africa and the urgent need for greater access to vaccines. He said that after about 215,000 deaths, only five percent of Africans had received two vaccines, and the CDC Africa goal was to vaccinate 60% of the population by the end of 2022.

He warned that “history must not repeat itself”, pointing to the deadly spread of HIV / AIDS in Africa in the late 20th century and the flu pandemic in 2009 due to lack of access to medical treatment. “Today in 2021 we find ourselves in very similar scenarios,” he said. “I would say that Africa needs its own vaccine manufacturing capabilities. As a continent we import 99% of our vaccines and produce only 1% of our vaccines, which means that 12 million doses of vaccines are manufactured in Africa. As a continent of 1.2 billion people, we consume 25% of the world’s vaccines ”.

All of this clearly suggests that Africa must do everything possible to produce its own effective vaccine, he said. To carry out this “extremely important” mission, Africa CDC has brought together heads of state from across the continent, convening the largest virtual summit in April, with 40,000 participants from 70 countries. “At the end of that meeting, the conference launched the Association for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM), which is going to be a framework and a roadmap for us to manufacture vaccines for the continent,” he said.

While inoculating all of Africa is “an ambitious journey,” he said, “I must say that I am extremely delighted and encouraged that 10 countries in Africa have embarked on that journey to manufacture vaccines.”

He said one of the lessons to be learned is that “without vaccines and vaccination, the COVID-19 situation will get worse before it gets better, and vaccine manufacturing is key to Africa’s health security.”

Nkengasong said he would donate the prize proceeds to support vulnerable populations in Northwest and Southwest Cameroon, and thanked Professor Sened for inviting him to Israel and offering to share Israeli knowledge on fighting the pandemic.

“I can’t wait to come to Israel,” he said. “My wife and I love Israel. It is our favorite destination. I can’t wait to go there with a group of scientists from Africa, so I’ll accept your invitation before you change your mind. “

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