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By Kester Kenn Klomegah
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared monkeypox a new global health emergency after 20,000 cases were reported in 77 countries. Some 75 people have died in the 11 African countries where the disease has been recorded, according to the latest reports at the end of July. He said monkeypox is an “extraordinary” situation that qualifies as a global health emergency.
Despite these few deaths in the past month and signs that it will spread further, Africa is battling monkeypox without a vaccine the same way it was with Covid-19. A resurgence of monkeypox infections has been reported since the beginning of May outside the countries of West and Central Africa where the disease has been endemic for a long time.
The vast majority of monkeypox deaths have been recorded on the African continent. Africa remains the only part of the world without a vaccine dose, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Let’s get vaccines to the continent,” acting head of the Africa Center for Disease Control, ACDC, Ahmed Ogwell, said during a weekly press briefing pointing to another 1.3 billion case on the continent. continent without access to a vaccine, as in the Covid-19 pandemic.
Reports indicate that monkeypox has been established in parts of West and Central Africa for decades, but it was not known to trigger large epidemics beyond the continent or spread widely among people. people until May, when authorities detected dozens of outbreaks in Europe, North America and elsewhere. .
Ogwell said the Africa CDC has been engaging with international partners in attempts to secure vaccines, and while he said “good news” is expected in the coming days, “we cannot be able to give you a timetable”.
Even doses of the smallpox vaccine, which has been shown to be effective against monkeypox, are not available in Africa, Ogwell said. “The solutions must be global in nature,” he said in a warning to the international community. “If we are not safe, the rest of the world is not safe.”
The Covid-19 pandemic and the global hoarding of vaccine doses came as a shock to African leaders, who quickly united in an unprecedented effort to secure doses and establish production of more vaccines on the continent.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there were around 16 million doses of the approved vaccine available, but only in bulk, so it would take several months to get them into vials. His organization is currently urging countries with stockpiles to share the vaccines as the supply is limited. He estimates, however, that between 5 and 10 million doses of vaccine will be needed to protect all high-risk groups.
He said he was creating a vaccine-sharing mechanism for protection against monkeypox, but the organization has released few details, so there is no guarantee that African countries will be given priority. . No country has yet agreed to share vaccines with the health organization.
The WHO, however, has warned against discrimination. “A failure to act will have serious consequences for global health,” Lawrence Gostin, director of the WHO Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law, said on Twitter.
Health officials have stressed that monkeypox can infect anyone in close contact with a patient or their contaminated clothing or linens. Researchers are still studying how it spreads, but believe it’s mainly through close, skin-to-skin contact and through contact with bedding and clothing that has touched an infected person’s rash or bodily fluids.
Another report also highlighted the fact that monkeypox has been a largely neglected public health problem in parts of Africa for decades, but cases began to be reported outside countries where it is endemic in May. It usually causes mild to moderate symptoms, including fever, fatigue, and painful skin lesions that resolve within a few weeks.
In Africa, monkeypox is mainly spread to humans by infected wild animals such as rodents in limited outbreaks that have generally not crossed borders. In Europe, North America and elsewhere, however, monkeypox is spreading among people unrelated to animals or who have recently traveled to Africa. In the United States and Europe, the vast majority of infections have occurred in men who have sex with men, although health officials have stressed that anyone can get the virus.