Health authorities in Africa have said they are treating the expanding monkeypox outbreak there as an emergency and called on rich countries to share the world’s limited supply of vaccines in an effort to avoid the glaring equity problems seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monkeypox has been sickening people in parts of Central and West Africa for decades, but the lack of laboratory diagnosis and weak surveillance means many cases are going undetected across the continent.
“This particular outbreak for us means an emergency,” Africa Centers for Disease Control acting director Ahmed Ogwell said.
“We want to be able to address monkeypox as an emergency now so that it does not cause more pain and suffering,” he said.
Globally, more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 51 countries, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The majority of those cases are in Europe. No deaths beyond Africa have been reported.
Within Africa, the WHO said monkeypox has spread to countries where it has not previously been seen, including South Africa, Ghana and Morocco.
However, more than 90 percent of the continent’s infections are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, WHO Regional Office for Africa director Matshidiso Moeti said.
She said that given the limited global supplies of vaccines to fight monkeypox, the WHO was in talks with manufacturers and countries with stockpiles to see if they might be shared.
“We would like to see the global spotlight on monkeypox act as a catalyst to beat this disease once and for all in Africa,” she told a news briefing on Thursday.
The WHO said that similar to the scramble last year for COVID-19 vaccines, countries with supplies of vaccines to stop monkeypox are not yet sharing them with African countries.
“We do not have any donations that have been offered to [poorer] countries,” said Fiona Braka, who heads the WHO’s emergency response team in Africa. “We know that those countries that have some stocks, they are mainly reserving them for their own populations.”
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