“He’s a very strong public health leader with many years of experience, and would bring great connectivity to African leaders and community partners,” said Dr. Chris Beyrer, a professor of public health and human rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (Dr. Beyrer was on a short list of candidates for the position.)
PEPFAR, the largest public health program in the United States, was started in 2003 by President George W. Bush. Since its launch, the U.S. government has invested more than $85 billion in more than 50 countries, saving an estimated 20 million lives.
Funds distributed by the scheme are used to support prevention programs, testing and antiretroviral therapy for H.I.V. Some directors have been heavy-handed in setting priorities for African nations, so a leader like Dr. Nkengasong who knows and is trusted by Africans is a welcome change, experts said.
“To have somebody who’s a known figure both in the U.S. and around the world, and in Africa, is a sign that they’re taking this seriously — that they understand that raising up African leadership is really important,” said Gregg Gonsalves, a longtime H.I.V. activist and an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health.
Cameroon, Dr. Nkengasong’s country of birth, has a high prevalence of H.I.V. and tuberculosis. And he has been vocal in his support of training local scientists and doctors to lead public health and research in the continent. In 2011, he helped establish the African Society for Laboratory Medicine.
Dr. Nkengasong was knighted in November 2018 by the government of Cameroon for his contributions to public health. He serves as an adviser to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, among others. For his leadership in the Covid-19 pandemic, he was included in Time magazine’s 2021 list of the 100 most influential people.
The only downside to Dr. Nkengasong leading PEPFAR is that he is also needed to combat other infectious disease efforts in Africa, Mr. Gonsalves said: “It’s a loss for Africa C.D.C.”