CDC Programs In Cameroon Pivot to COVID-19 Response
Yaoundé, Cameroon – CDC began work in Cameroon in 1998 as an HIV laboratory and research program and has since evolved to an established office with 30 staff providing technical expertise and support to the Government of Cameroon to prevent and control HIV, TB, malaria, and other public health threats.
Building on progress made through those programs, CDC’s work pivoted in January 2020 to support Cameroon’s preparedness and response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before Cameroon announced its first COVID-19 case on March 6, CDC supported the Ministry of Health (MOH) as it developed COVID-19 preparedness and response plans and conducted trainings at national and regional levels. CDC also helped develop passenger screening protocols at borders, including international airports and other ports of entry, and helped train health officials who would conduct screenings.
Cameroon’s new Emergency Operations Center – established in 2017 – was activated. CDC Cameroon immediately organized a COVID-19 Response Team, with most members having experience from the 2014-2015 West Africa Ebola outbreak response. Cameroon’s EOC is one of the most visible U.S. investments from the Global Health Security Agenda, a broad initiative to make the world safer and more secure from global health threats posed by infectious diseases.
More than 800 graduates of the CDC-established Field Epidemiology Training Program are working in 10 regions of Cameroon. They are trained to collect, analyze, and interpret data and contribute to evidence-based decisions. They constitute the rapid response teams and are the ground force of Cameroon’s COVID-19 response – conducting disease surveillance, case investigations, and contact tracing. In addition, 89 graduates of advanced training are supporting the response in Cameroon and in their host countries of Central African Republic and Chad.
CDC’s support also has strengthened Cameroon’s laboratory systems, enabling Cameroon to be one of the first countries in Central Africa with COVID-19 diagnostic capacity. The CDC-constructed National Public Health Laboratory is coordinating distribution of COVID-19 test kits, laboratory supply management, specimen collection and transport, and reporting of results from decentralized laboratories.
CDC facilitated international accreditation of five laboratories in Cameroon, including the current reference laboratory for COVID-19 testing, and supported development of MOH’s laboratory strategy and decentralization plan to increase diagnostic capacity in all regions.
CDC response staff provide support for case management to improve outcomes for confirmed COVID-19 cases and for infection prevention and control by providing supplies and trainings for health workers. As part of community engagement and mitigation, CDC staff developed culturally appropriate health messages for print, broadcast, and social media to facilitate risk communication and health promotion and to counteract COVID-19 misinformation and stigma.
In addition to participating in country meetings, CDC Cameroon staff also participated in a meeting of Health Ministers of Central African countries to plan for a joint response to COVID-19, contributed to the development of the regional preparedness plan, and provided remote technical support for Equatorial Guinea.
Cameroon’s COVID-19 case count and case-fatality ratio are among the highest in Africa. Through existing public health capacity and ongoing support from CDC and other partners, the Government of Cameroon is focused on controlling the outbreak in the country.
CDC is co-leading MOH’s response efforts in conjunction with WHO. Nine senior Cameroonian health officials trained through CDC’s Public Health Emergency Management Fellowship are leading MOH’s COVID-19 response efforts at the national EOC and facilitating coordination of the national response with subnational response efforts.
CDC’s expertise in outbreak response is recognized in Cameroon – evidenced by co-leading MOH’s response efforts, invitations to brief the Prime Minister and the ministerial cabinet, weekly updates to diplomatic missions and technical and financial partners, and press briefings organized by the U.S. Embassy.
In recognition of the efforts of the CDC Cameroon COVID-19 Response Team, the Minister of Health issued a press release expressing appreciation for CDC’s support. Considerable effort has gone into supporting the COVID-19 response in Cameroon, and much more is needed to bring the outbreak under control.
“On est ensemble” is a common refrain in Cameroon that translates to “We are together.” As part of CDC’s mission to improve health globally, CDC Cameroon will continue to provide support to the Government of Cameroon to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and prevent and control other public health threats in the country.