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Role of National Public Health Institutes for a Stronger Health System in Africa

Author(s): Haftom Taame Desta, Natalie Mayet, Alex Riolexus Ario, Raji Tajudeen

Background: Functional National Public Health Institutes (NPHIs) are critical for effective surveillance, outbreak detection and response, provision of specialized diagnostic services, research and capacity building to guide health policies and strategies through science and data. Many countries in Africa lack fully functioning NPHIs and remain ill prepared to respond to public health threats with the required speed and agility.

Objective: The main objective of this study was to map and generate information on the status of NPHI establishment in Africa, understand the legal frameworks used by the countries to establish NPHIs, and describe the different models of NPHIs on the continent.

Methods: A semi-structured questionnaire was administered online by the Africa CDC between 18 July 2021 and 26 May 2022. Data were collated, filtered and analyzed using Microsoft Excel and Arc GIS for mapping of NPHI establishment status by country. Informed consent was obtained from all participating institutions.

Result: Of the 55 African Union Member States, 40 (72.7%) responded to the online survey. Among the member states that responded, 12 reported being fully established, 17 indicated that they were at an advanced stage, six (6) had started the process, and five (5) reported not having a plan to develop an NPHI. Among the fully established and advanced-stage NPHIs, 17 (58.6%) are autonomous and semiautonomous, three (10.3%) are a network of institutions, and nine (31%) are structured as departments under the Ministries of Health. The most common functions of the NPHIs are research (26), surveillance and disease intelligence (24), epidemic preparedness and response (24), workforce development (19), public health informatics (15), and health promotion (10).

Conclusion: Success in building strong health systems in Africa requires countries to have strong public health institutions. Thus, more efforts are required from the Africa CDC, African Union Member States and development partners to advocate and support the strengthening and establishment of new NPHIs.

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