KASEYA: Vaccinating your dog, cat could keep next pandemic at bay

Dr. Jean Kaseya, a citizen of the Democratic Republic of Congo was this year elected to head Africa CDC. He previously held several health dockets at continental and global level.

KASEYA: Vaccinating your dog, cat could keep next pandemic at bay
Africa CDC Director General, Dr. Jean Kaseya speaks to journalist Johnson Kanamugire on the margins of Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi on September 6, 2023. Photo | SemaBOX

The next pandemic is coming, and health experts say the prediction is based on multiple studies that singled out climate change as a likely trigger.

With Africa being uniquely affected by the climate crisis, and relying heavily on imported drugs and vaccines, the prediction is a wakeup call to policy makers to devise ways to respond, according to officials at Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

Africa CDC is African Union agency established to support member States to deal with health emergencies.

So, what will it take to prepare, respond? Is the next pandemic preventable? RwandaPost’s Johnson Kanamugire spoke to the agency’s Director General, Dr. Jean Kaseya on the margins of the just-concluded Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi.

Below are slightly edited interview excerpts


What’s the place of health in the ongoing climate discourse, and what should people expect?

Coming to the Africa Climate Summit is to reaffirm that there’s a huge impact of climate change on the health sector, and this is why Africa CDC is promoting what we call One Health approach.

It means recognizing the connection between humans, animal, plants and the environment. Based on all studies that we have, we know that the next pandemic is coming and I must repeat to everyone that other continents are getting ready. Africa, too, must be ready. 

Are you able to predict what the next pandemic will be?

This pandemic will be a zoonotic one… It means the transmission from the animal to the human being, and it will be worsened by climate change. It is, therefore, our collective responsibility to promote One Health and be more proactive in the way we are managing the health sector by considering the interaction between these three components and make our countries resilient to climate change.

With this prediction, what are you exactly saying policy makers and African Union member States should do? 

First is to sensitize people to take appropriate actions. We are talking to heads of State, ministers and the population to say let us be ready.

The other thing is dedicating funding to the health sector and climate change nexus, and work together through multi-sectoral approach to make sure we are in a position to respond to the next pandemic. 

Covid-19 taught us a lesson. It was a total lockdown and everything and the economy was down. So we need to be prepared (…) if we neglect the impact of climate change to the health sector, everything we are doing today will be down when another pandemic strikes.

Is the next pandemic preventable in your view?

We are working on that. We know that it’s a 75 per cent probability that the next pandemic will be zoonotic, and there are actions that we can take, like prioritizing vaccination of animals… If you can vaccinate your dog or your cat, that will help prevent the next pandemic.

Talking of vaccines, any update with regard to having Africa manufacture its own medicines? How far with the operationalization of African Medicine Agency (AMA)?

We needed AMA from yesterday because the agenda is to manufacture our vaccines. I say to our leaders that out of the vaccines that we use in Africa, only one percent is manufactured on the continent. This one is exposing us because when there will be another pandemic, having learnt from Covid-19, other regions will lock themselves and we won’t have medicines that we need.

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That’s why we need a strong regulatory body that will help to certify the products that we are manufacturing and help African countries to trade among themselves. Therefore, without a strong AMA, we won’t achieve this.

We are advocating for the operationalization of AMA very quickly and Africa CDC is fully supporting this agenda.

Could technology help keep the next pandemic at bay?

With Covid-19, a lot of things changed. Technology is helping from disease control, prevention and cure, and telemedicine is a major component that Africa CDC is developing today to deal with a shortage of health workers and specialists.

There is also the use of drones in transport of medicines and vaccines. Using digital platforms and deploying innovation to support the health agenda is something we are trying to have all countries in Africa align to and get policy makers to integrate in policies.

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There is also the use of digital platforms to integrate collection and sharing of data, and we are putting up a big data centre to collect information and use it to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks.

~ Bio: Dr. Jean Kaseya, a national of the Democratic Republic of Congo was this year elected to head Africa CDC. He previously held several health dockets at continental and global level. He served as member of the Technical Review Panel for the Global Fund in Geneva, and served as Global Head of the Africa Polio Team for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation between June 2020 to February 2021.