African officials: Spread of monkeypox is already an emergency

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Health authorities in Africa say they are treating the spreading monkeypox outbreak there as an emergency and asking rich countries to share the world’s limited supply of vaccines in an effort to stave off glaring equity issues seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. -19 pandemic.

Monkeypox has been sickening people in parts of central and western Africa for decades, but a lack of laboratory diagnosis and weak surveillance mean many cases go undetected across the continent. To date, countries in Africa have reported more than 1,800 suspected cases so far this year, including more than 70 deaths, but only 109 have been laboratory confirmed.

“This particular outbreak for us means an emergency,” said Ahmed Ogwell, acting director of the African Centers for Disease Control. “We want to be able to address monkeypox as an emergency now so it doesn’t cause more pain and suffering,” he said.

In the past weekThe WHO said its emergency committee concluded the spreading monkeypox outbreak was of concern but did not yet justify declaring a global health emergency. The UN health agency said it would reconsider its decision if the disease continues to spread across more borders, shows signs of increasing severity or begins to infect vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and children.

Globally, more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 51 countries, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of those cases are in Europe. No deaths have been reported beyond Africa.

Within Africa, the WHO said monkeypox has spread to countries where it has not been seen before, including South Africa, Ghana and Morocco. But more than 90% of the continent’s infections are in Congo and Nigeria, according to WHO Africa director Dr. Moeti Matshidiso.

He said that given the limited global supply of vaccines to combat monkeypox, the WHO was in talks with manufacturers and countries with stockpiles to see if they could be shared. The vaccines were developed primarily to stop smallpox, a related disease, and most are not licensed for use against monkeypox in Africa. Vaccines have not previously been used to try to eradicate monkeypox epidemics in Africa; officials have relied primarily on measures like contact tracing and isolation.

“We would like to see the global attention on monkeypox act as a catalyst to defeat this disease once and for all in Africa,” he told a news conference on Thursday.

The WHO noted that, similar to last year’s race for COVID-19 vaccines, countries with supplies of vaccines to stop monkeypox are not yet sharing them with African countries.

“We don’t have any donations that have been offered to (poorer) countries,” said Fiona Braka, who leads the WHO’s emergency response team in Africa. “We know that those countries that do have some stocks, they are reserving them mainly for their own populations.”

The WHO said last month that it was working to create a mechanism to share vaccines with countries with the biggest outbreaks, which some fear the vaccines will find their way to wealthy countries like Britain, Germany and France, some of the agency’s biggest donors and which already have their own supplies.

While monkeypox cases in Europe and North America have been identified primarily in men who are gay, bisexual or who sleep with other men, that is not the case in Africa.

The WHO’s Tieble Traore said that based on detailed data from Ghana, the number of monkeypox cases was almost evenly split between men and women.

“We have not yet seen the spread among men who have sex with men,” he said.

Among monkeypox cases in Britain, which has the largest outbreak outside of Africa, the vast majority of cases are in men and authorities have said it is spreading only within “defined sexual networks of gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men.

Scientists warn that anyone is at risk of contracting monkeypox if they come into close physical contact with an infected patient or their clothing or bedding.

In Africa, monkeypox has been transmitted mainly to people through infected wild animals, such as rodents or primates. It has not generally triggered widespread outbreaks or rapid spread between people.


AP reporter Maria Cheng in London contributed.


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