Cameroon-born virologist named first African PEPFAR head

NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 28 – US President Joe Biden on Tuesday appointed Dr John Nkengasong, a virologist and director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to lead the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Dr Nkengasong, born in Cameroon, is the first person of African origin to head the program, which is housed in the Department of State.

His appointment is expected to boost HIV suppression efforts, especially for people living with HIV that stand a high risk of contracting severe diseases from COVID-19 as well as hospitalizations.

Compared with 2019, people reached with HIV prevention programs and services declined by 11 per cent while young people reached with prevention services declined by 12 per cent.

The 2020 Global Fund Results Report showed mothers receiving medicine to prevent transmitting HIV to their babies dropped by 4.5 per cent.

HIV testing dropped by 22 per cent, holding back HIV treatment initiation in most countries.

Dr Nkengasong who served as Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is part of the African Union, rose to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic as the coordinating body of the continental response; working with countries to secure tests, boost laboratory capacity, manage outbreaks, and access vaccines.

PEPFAR is a $7 billion program that is the largest single-nation commitment to fight a single disease in history.

Since its inception in 2003, the U.S. has invested over $85 billion in the global HIV/AIDS response with Kenya being a beneficiary.

According to the WHO, during the COVID pandemic, there has been a reduction and access to prevention services, testing services for HIV.

“These are the kind of services needed to restart and maintain so that all people living with HIV have access to the anti-retroviral they need,and also now start to be prioritized and have access to COVID-19 vaccines.”

Vaccines currently in the market can be used among people living with HIV and  provide adequate protection with WHO further stating that they should be prioritized for early Covid vaccines, considering that people living with HIV have a 30 per cent increased risk of death if they are hospitalized.

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