Africa must ‘step up surveillance’ to curb monkeypox

Experts said African governments should focus on investing in their surveillance systems and strengthening preparedness to stem the rapid spread of infectious diseases such as monkeypox.

Monkeypox is spreading rapidly in countries around the world where it has never been seen before, as well as in African countries, some of which have struggled with the disease for decades.

For a self-healing disease [such as monkeypox] that spread through direct and close contact, we must focus on good surveillance with reliable and effective diagnostic laboratory backup, isolating confirmed cases and implementing effective infection prevention and control measures,” Owewell Tomori, professor of virology and member of the Global Virome Project Leadership Council. , He said SciDev.Net . Network.

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

The incubation period between exposure and when symptoms first appear is from five to 21 days, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the latest WHO figures, a total of 2,103 confirmed cases, one suspected case and one death were reported in 42 countries in five WHO regions between January 1 and June 15. Only about three percent of these are from the Africa region but the true number is suspected to be much higher.

“There have been 36 confirmed cases in Nigeria, 10 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, eight in the Central African Republic, three each in Benin and Cameroon, and two in the Republic of the Congo,” the World Health Organization said in a press conference on Thursday. , June 16.

Ghana now has five cases of the virus, while Morocco has one, both of which were free of monkeypox before the recent outbreak, according to the World Health Organization. Globally, the disease has spread rapidly in countries where the virus has not been previously seen since early May.

“For a disease that is self-limiting and spreads through direct and close contact, we must focus on good surveillance.”

Oyewale Tomori, Global Virome Project

“It is clear that this is an extraordinary situation that affects more and more countries. So, shortly after the inequalities that Africa has seen in relation to the With the COVID-19 response, we cannot afford any potential recurrence and need to be adequately prepared.”

She said investment is needed to strengthen surveillance systems in many African countries to enable early and rapid detection of infectious diseases such as monkeypox and to start work to prevent the rapid spread of diseases.

Uganda’s health ministry said it has increased monitoring, even though the country has yet to register a case of the virus.

“The Ministry of Health is working closely with partners to monitor the evolving situation of monkeypox outbreaks in different parts of the world,” Henry Mwebisa, the country’s director general of health services, said in a statement on Monday (June 6).

Mwebisa said the government has boosted testing capabilities at the Uganda Virus Research Institute to accurately diagnose the disease.

In Nigeria, Demi Ogwena, a professor of medicine at the University of the Niger Delta, said there had been inaccurate case reports, particularly in the West African sub-region.

For example, while Nigeria’s Center for Disease Control has been reporting 21 cases in the country since January, the World Health Organization puts the number between January and April at 36.

Ogwena attributed this to the “control challenge” and a deeply divided health system.

“The challenges we face in our health systems are very deep and far reaching. I wouldn’t say we tackled all the challenges because sometimes when you have a big problem, even if you put in a lot of effort, as long as the problem is so big, the effort won’t be seen.”

He acknowledged some improvements and said the Nigerian government had taken steps to address some of the issues.

“A typical example, before COVID-19, we only had four labs that could do a COVID-19 diagnosis, or even three. But now, because of the investment as a result of COVID-19, almost every state can make a COVID-19 diagnosis.”

Many African countries do not currently have adequate facilities for diagnosing monkeypox.

In Uganda, Mwebisa said the government has boosted testing capabilities at the Uganda Virus Research Institute for accurate diagnosis of monkeypox.

Only the national lab is able to diagnose monkeypox in Nigeria, Ogwena says.

“There is a lot of investment required as well as public awareness because people do not fully appreciate infectious diseases, [and] How it is transmitted.” “That is why we have so many myths and misconceptions when these diseases appear.”

Monkeypox vaccines

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

Tomori said that although the World Health Organization has a stockpile of smallpox vaccines that countries can access, the first step should not be to “hit the vaccine pedal.”
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“In terms of a vaccine, one of the newer and safer smallpox vaccines has been approved to prevent monkeypox. Although we certainly do not recommend mass vaccination at this point, we must make sure we are prepared if the need arises,” Moeti said.

Tomori said Africa does not need to wait for the WHO, the European Union or the United Kingdom before taking positive action “on an outbreak of an endemic disease in Africa”. “We’ve had monkeypox since 1970, so why wait” until now to express concern or take appropriate prevention and control measures? “

This piece was originally produced by SciDev.Net’s English language office in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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