Dr. John Nkengasong heads the Ethiopia-based Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is a specialized technical branch of the African Union. In that role, he helped to steer Africa’s 54 nations into an alliance that—thanks to measures that included closing country borders early on and instituting national curfews and mask mandates—has weathered the COVID crisis much more successfully than many far richer countries, including the United States. When the pandemic began, experts feared Africa would be ravaged by COVID-19, owing in large part to a relative lack of sophisticated health care infrastructure. Instead, Africa has triumphed compared with much of the rest of the world: The continent of 1.2 billion people has reported roughly 4.6 million COVID-19 cases and 123,000 deaths—far below the per capita rates in Europe, the Americas, or Asia. It’s true that those numbers likely understate the actual number of cases on a continent where public health resources are often scarce. Still, they are signs of a remarkable achievement. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded Nkengasong the 2020 Global Goalkeeper Award. Africa’s key challenge now, according to Nkengasong, is rolling out vaccinations efficiently across the continent within two years; this year’s goal is to vaccinate roughly 30% of the population.
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