Denis Balibouse—Reuters

John Nkengasong is a modern-day African hero. Through his work as the founding director and leader of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, he has helped save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has also been an essential voice in calling for greater (and more equitable) access to vaccines.

As a young child growing up in Cameroon, and later as a brilliant student at the University of Yaoundé, John demonstrated that his would be no ordinary career. His boundless curiosity and dedication to science led him to become one of the world’s leading virologists working on HIV/AIDS, later taking the helm of the Africa CDC.

Under John, the institution has become a trusted source of scientific knowledge on the continent and abroad. He has trained and empowered young African scientists to serve during the pandemic and supported a strong network of CDCs throughout the region. His work has led to improved testing, better provision of COVID-19 tools—especially vaccines—and a more transparent approach to sharing COVID-19 data by all African countries.

Although his work is now more important than ever, John is far from done. Expect to see him charting the course both in Africa and globally as the world responds to emerging public-health threats.

Okonjo-Iweala is director-general of the World Trade Organization

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