HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) – Health authorities in Africa say they view the spreading monkeypox outbreak there as an emergency and are calling on rich countries to share the world’s limited supply of vaccines in an attempt to address the glaring equality problems that emerged during the COVID crisis were seen to prevent -19 pandemic.
Monkeypox has been making people sick in parts of Central and West Africa for decades, but the lack of lab diagnosis and weak surveillance means many cases across the continent go undetected. 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 confirmed by a lab.
“This particular outbreak represents an emergency for us,” said Ahmed Ogwell, the acting director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control. “We now want to be able to address monkeypox as an emergency so that it doesn’t cause more pain and suffering,” he said.
Last week, the WHO said its emergency committee concluded that the growing monkeypox outbreak was worrisome but did not justify declaring it a global health emergency. The UN health agency said it would reconsider its decision if the disease continued to spread across more borders, show signs of increased severity or start infecting vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and children.
More than 5,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 51 countries worldwide, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of those cases are in Europe. No deaths have been reported outside of 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 according to WHO Africa director, Dr. Moeti Matshidiso, more than 90% of infections on the continent occur in Congo and Nigeria.
She said that given the limited global supplies of vaccines to fight monkey pox, the WHO was in talks with manufacturers and countries with stocks to see if they could be shared. The vaccines are primarily designed to stop smallpox, a related disease — and most are not approved for use against monkeypox in Africa. Vaccines have not been used before to try to eradicate monkeypox epidemics in Africa; Officials have relied mainly on measures such as contact tracing and isolation.
“We would like to see the global spotlight on monkeypox act as a catalyst to defeat this disease once and for all in Africa,” she said at a news conference on Thursday.
The WHO noted that, similar to last year’s battle for COVID-19 vaccines, countries that have vaccines to stop monkeypox are not yet sharing them with African countries.
“We have no donations that have been offered to (poorer) countries,” said Fiona Braka, head of the WHO emergency response team in Africa. “We know that those countries that have some reserves reserve them mainly for their own populations.”
The WHO said last month it is working to create a mechanism to share vaccines with countries with the biggest outbreaks, with some fearing vaccines will go to rich countries like Britain, Germany and France, some of the world’s largest donors. agency and carrying all their own supplies.
While cases of monkeypox in Europe and North America have usually been identified in males who are gay, bisexual, or who sleep with other males, this has not been the case in Africa.
WHO’s Tieble Traore said that according to detailed data from Ghana, the number of monkey pox cases was almost evenly distributed between men and women.
“We have not yet seen a spread among men who have sex with men,” he said.
Of the cases of monkeypox in Britain, which has the largest outbreak outside of Africa, the vast majority of cases are in men, and officials have noted that it spreads only within “defined sexual networks of homosexuals, bisexuals or men who have sex.” with men.”
Scientists warn that anyone is at risk of contracting monkey pox if they come into close physical contact with an infected patient or their clothing or bedding.
In Africa, monkeypox is mainly spread to humans through infected wild animals such as rodents or primates. It has not typically led to widespread outbreaks or rapid spread between people.
AP journalist Maria Cheng in London contributed.