Africa 'must step up vigilance' to stop monkeypox

Africa ‘must step up vigilance’ to stop monkeypox

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Experts say African governments need to focus investments in their surveillance systems and developing preparedness to curb the rapid spread of infectious diseases like monkeypox.

This disease is rapidly spreading to countries around the world where it has never been seen before and is taking hold in African countries, some of which have been battling it for decades.

“For a self-limited disease that is transmitted by direct and close contact, we need to focus on good surveillance with a reliable and efficient diagnostic laboratory, isolation of confirmed cases, and application of effective infection prevention and control measures,” he says. Hey wale. Tomori, a professor of virology at Redeemers University in Nigeria and a member of the board of directors of the Global Virus Project.

Monkeypox is a viral disease that presents with flu-like symptoms before patients develop a painful rash, sores, and swollen lymph nodes.

The incubation period between exposure and the appearance of the first symptoms varies from five to 21 days, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to a WHO Africa press release dated June 30, 2022, “As of June 28, 1,821 cases of monkeypox have been reported from 13 countries on the continent. Of these reported cases, 109 were laboratory confirmed in nine countries. The number of confirmed cases on the continent represents 2% of the more than 4,500 confirmed cases globally. »

During a press conference on June 16, Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, had already stated that “there have been 36 confirmed cases in Nigeria, 10 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, eight in the Central African Republic, three in Benin and Cameroon, and two in the Republic of the Congo”.

Ghana now has five cases of the virus, while Morocco has one. These two countries were free of monkeypox before the current outbreak, according to the WHO. Globally, the disease has spread rapidly since early May in countries where the virus had not been seen before.

“For a self-limited disease that is transmitted by direct and close contact, we need to focus on good surveillance”

Oyewale Tomori, Global Virome Project

“This is clearly an unusual situation that is affecting more and more countries. Shortly after the inequalities that Africa has experienced in the response to COVID-19, we cannot afford possible repetitions and we must be duly prepared,” said Matshidiso Moeti.

He added that investments were needed to strengthen surveillance systems in many African countries to enable early and rapid detection of infectious diseases such as monkeypox and trigger actions to prevent their rapid spread.


Uganda’s Ministry of Health says it has stepped up surveillance, although the country has yet to record any cases of the disease.

“The Ministry of Health is working closely with partners to monitor the development of the monkeypox epidemic situation in different parts of the world,” says Henry Mwebesa, director general of the country’s health services, in a statement issued. on Monday June 6.

The latter adds that the government had increased the testing capabilities of the Uganda Virus Research Institute to accurately diagnose the disease.

In Nigeria, Dimie Ogoina, a professor of medicine at the University of the Niger Delta, says cases have been misreported, especially in the West African subregion.

For example, while the Nigerian Center for Disease Control reports 21 cases in the country since January, the WHO puts the figure between January and April at 36.

Dimie Ogoina attributes this inconsistency to the “surveillance challenge” and a deeply fractured health system.

“The challenges we face in our health systems are very deep and far reaching. I would not say that we meet all the challenges because sometimes when you have a big problem, even if you try hard, while the problem is very big, the effort is not noticeable, ”he said. .

He acknowledges some improvements and indicates that the Nigerian government has taken steps to address some of the problems.

“A typical example, before COVID-19, is that we only had four laboratories that could make a diagnosis of COVID-19, or even three. But now, due to the investment resulting from COVID-19, almost any state can diagnose COVID-19.


Currently, many African countries do not have facilities capable of diagnosing monkeypox.

In Uganda, Henry Mwebesa says the government has increased the testing capacity of the Uganda Virus Research Institute to enable it to accurately diagnose monkeypox.

Dimie Ogoina, for his part, says that only the national laboratory can diagnose monkeypox in Nigeria.

“A lot of investment and public awareness is needed because people don’t fully understand infectious diseases and how they are transmitted,” he says. “That’s why we have a lot of myths and misconceptions when these diseases appear. »

Compared to smallpox, monkeypox has a relatively low mortality rate, and the West African strain of the virus has a mortality rate of less than 4%. But the smallpox vaccine is effective against the monkeypox virus.

Although the WHO has a stockpile of smallpox vaccines that countries can access, the first step should not be to “press the vaccine pedal,” says Oyewale Tomori.

“As for the vaccine, one of the newest and safest smallpox vaccines has been approved for the prevention of monkeypox. Although we do not recommend mass vaccination at this stage, we must ensure that we are ready when it is needed,” says Matshidiso Moeti.

Oyewale Tomori believes that Africa did not need to wait for the WHO, the European Union or the United Kingdom to take positive action “in the event of an outbreak of an endemic disease in Africa”.

“We have had monkeypox since 1970, why are we waiting until now to worry or take proper prevention and control measures? He asks.


Nwokoye Mpi


This article is republished from SciDev.Net under a Creative Commons license.

The original version of this article was produced by the English edition of SciDev.Net for sub-Saharan Africa.

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