As monkeypox panic spreads, African doctors see double standard

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DAKAR, Senegal — In a part of Nigeria that has been dealing with outbreaks of monkeypox for years, a doctor saw the photos circulating in Western media this week and laughed.

” Those are the very serious cases,” said Oyewale Tomori, a virologist in the southwest of the country. “Like, ‘Ahh! It’s monkeypox!’ ”

The virus – discovered five decades ago in the Democratic Republic of Congo – causes mild illness in most people, he said, as well as blisters that usually disappear within weeks. It is much less transmissible than the coronavirus and much less deadly than Ebola. There is already an effective vaccine.

What bothers infectious disease experts across the continent is the double standard that has emerged since monkeypox captured the world’s attention: few seemed to care, or even notice, until Westerners start to get sick.

Over the past two weeks, cases of the animal-derived virus typically found in West and Central Africa have emerged in the United States, Canada, Australia, Israel and a growing number of European countries. There have been at least 92 confirmed infections and no deaths. Belgium has imposed a 21-day quarantine. President Biden has assured Americans that the United States has enough vaccine stocks to meet the threat.

Yet global alarm bells have not sounded as several African countries have battled outbreaks in recent months. Flamboyant graphic images on social media – some of the same used to illustrate monkeypox since the 1970s – rarely feature white patients.

“These cases are recorded in Europe,” Tomori said. “Why do you use the photo of an African? These are your poxes.

The World Health Organization has yet to verify the origin of the outbreak, although a WHO adviser told The Associated Press that the cases could be linked to raves in Spain and Spain. Belgium. Monkeypox is usually spread through close contact, including sexual activity.

Health officials suspect the virus has been traveling undetected in non-endemic countries for some time – potentially as early as 2018. Early testing suggests the cases are from the West African strain, which the WHO says has a mortality rate of about 1%.

Before monkeypox hit the West this year, the WHO said Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic had all recorded small numbers of cases. But contact tracing is limited, said Yap Boum, a Cameroonian epidemiologist. Infections tend to occur in remote forest areas, where people encounter wild animals that carry monkeypox, such as primates and rodents.

“Maybe now that it’s happening there, the problem will get more attention,” Boom said, “and we’ll have access to more vaccines, more treatments — all the things we don’t know about.” didn’t have the money.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo is battling by far the largest outbreak in the world: at least 1,238 cases and 57 deaths since January. The strain found there is also much more deadly, with a mortality rate of up to 10%. Many deaths are preventable, doctors say, but treatment can be hard to come by in areas where hospitals are underfunded.

“It can be devastating in the same way as covid-19,” said Health Minister Jean Jacques Mbungani. But the country’s monkeypox preparations have run out of steam during the pandemic. The nation needs more testing, more vaccinations, more medical workers to find cases and treat the sick.

“The response is not effective,” Mbungani said, “and remains lethargic due to the scarcity of resources.”

As monkeypox cases increase in Europe and other parts of the world, health authorities are expressing concern over the unusual increase. (Video: Alexa Juliana Ard, Meryl Kornfield/The Washington Post)

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said on Monday that most documented cases were mild. Young children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are at increased risk.

One of Nigeria’s top genomic sequencing experts, Christian Happi, invites his counterparts to come and study how his country has dealt with monkeypox.

“It’s not that scary here,” he said. “People are used to it. Come and learn from our public health authorities. Come see how we contain it.

Global enthusiasm to fight the virus should have arrived sooner, he said. Perhaps it could have been eradicated by now.

“Paying attention to disease, wherever it occurs, benefits everyone,” he said. “As the pandemic has shown us, we are all in this together.”

Ombour reported from Nairobi.

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