The 2020 GoalKeepers Award by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has come to Africa. The Director for the Africa Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, Dr, John Nkengasong has been given the honour.

The award that began in 2017 aims to highlight the extraordinary stories of remarkable individuals who are helping the charity achieve its aim of creating a better world by 2030.

Dr. John Nkengasong is credited with preparing Africa to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic way back in January even before it hit the continent.

“We knew what to do but we just didn’t have access to diagnostics. So, it’s like knowing that your enemy is coming and you don’t know how to protect yourself. I think that was the most trying moment for me as an individual as part of doing my job. So, as Africa CDC, we worked very hard to use all means. And in addition to that, in March when we needed diagnostics and airspaces were closed, governments had closed down, Europe shut down, Africa was not moving. So now you know where you can go get diagnostics, but you couldn’t get to where you can get the diagnostics. So, that was the most trying moment.”

The Africa CDC has since assisted countries across Africa to do their own diagnosis and guided them on what preventive measures to encourage their citizens to apply to prevent COVId-19 transmission.

African Union  Commissioner Social Affairs Amira El Fadil says they kept their position as the least affected.

“We kept our position as the least affected continent of COVID-19; the death rate is very low compared to other developed countries, the recovery is very high. The way member states managed to fight this COVID-19 pandemic; the way we managed to bring all of them together and for them to act in unity and together as one continent, not as individual countries, I think this is itself a success,” says El Fadil.

But the progress of combating the epidemic is slow. Many African countries have weak health systems. The Africa CDC is also worried that the reopening up of economies is leading many to relax measures aimed at preventing the spread of the pandemic virus.

While the continent has so far confirmed over 1.4 million COVID-19 positive cases, the Africa CDC is concerned that testing capacity is still very low. The continent has tested just 1% of its population of over 1.3 billion people.

But the race for a COVID -19 cure is already on and Africa has positioned itself strategically to benefit from vaccine development being done elsewhere in the world.

As Co-chair of the African CDC Consortium for COVID 19 vaccine trials, Dr, Nkengasong is leading the securement of a variety of late-stage vaccine clinical trials on the continent by working with vaccine developers, funders, and local facilitators.

Director Africa CDC Dr. John Nengasong says they stand at a position where they can express optimism.

“For us on the continent, because our manufacturing and development capacity for vaccines is limited, we stand at a position that we express optimism that global solidarity and cooperation will prevail over protectionism because we are in this together. COVID infection anywhere in Africa would continue to be a threat anywhere in the world. We’re in this together in collective security as people living on the same planet,” says Nengasong.

But the doctor says now is not the time to celebrate, because the continent is yet to hit the peak of the pandemic.