Biden picks Africa’s Covid chief to head Aids programme
US President Joe Biden has nominated Dr John Nkengasong to lead the well-resourced public health programme aimed at combatting HIV/Aids, known as the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar).
Dr Nkengasong is currently the head of the Africa CDC – the agency leading the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. The $7bn (£5bn) Pepfar programme is known for offering funding and treatment to governments meant for people who are living with HIV, the majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa. If approved, the Cameroon-born virologist, would be the first person of African origin to head the programme. He was also among the founding members of Pepfar in 2013.
The US government initiative has been without a head since February last year. Its former leader Deborah Birx left to join the US coronavirus task force. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, HIV cases have been on the rise. Experts say that many people have not been getting tested for HIV while others have not been able to take their medicine due to the interruption of supplies.
UNAids Executive Director Winnie Byanyima, had tweeted earlier: “Thrilled! An excellent choice. A long-time leader in fighting #AIDS and great collaborator.” While many of his peers are happy for him some are questioning the transition as it comes at a time when he is advocating an equitable share for Covid-19 vaccines for Africa.