Monkeypox dwindling in the West, no vaccines for Africa

Monkeypox dwindling in the West, no vaccines for Africa

With monkeypox cases declining in Europe and parts of North America, many scientists believe it is time to prioritize eradicating the virus in Africa.

In July, the United Nations health agency classified monkeypox as a global emergency and appealed to the world to support African countries so that the catastrophic disparity in vaccines that has characterized the COVID-19 pandemic does not repeat itself.

But the sharp rise in global interest has had little impact on the continent. No rich country has shared vaccines or treatments with Africa, and some experts fear that interest will soon evaporate.

“Nothing has changed for us here, the focus is only on monkeypox in the West,” said virologist Placide Mbalaa who heads the global health research division at the Institute for Biomedical Research in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Countries in Africa where smallpox is endemic are still in the same situation we have always known, with few resources for monitoring, diagnosis and even patient management,” he added.

Monkeypox has diseased in parts of West and Central Africa since the 1970s, but public health officials didn’t consider using vaccines until after the disease caused unusual outbreaks in Europe and North America. As rich countries rush to buy all the world’s stockpile of the most advanced monkeypox vaccine, the World Health Organization said in June it would create a vaccine-sharing mechanism to help countries in need get the doses.

This has not happened yet. “Africa still does not benefit from smallpox vaccines or antiviral treatments” offers Dr. Comfort Moeti, WHO Director for Africa, adding that only small amounts have been made available for research purposes. Since 2000, Africa has reported between 1,000 and 2,000 suspected cases of monkeypox each year. Since the beginning of the year, the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded about 3,000 suspected infections, including more than 100 deaths.

In recent weeks, cases of monkeypox have fallen by more than a quarter worldwide, including 55% in Europe, according to the World Health Organization. The lack of aid to Africa is reminiscent of the injustice seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Dr. Evidio Aditiva, head of the Nigerian Center for Disease Control. “Each one took care of his (own) problem and left the others aside.”

Rich countries expanded their supplies of vaccines with a fifth of the normal dose, but none showed an interest in helping Africa. The World Health Organization’s Regional Office for the Americas recently announced that it has reached an agreement to procure 100,000 doses of the monkeypox vaccine that will begin delivery to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean within a few weeks. But no similar agreement has been concluded for Africa.

“I would like to have vaccines to give to my patients or anything that could reduce their hospital stay,” says Dr. Demi Ogwena, a professor of medicine at Delta University in Nigeria and a member of the World Health Organization’s emergency committee against monkeypox.

Monkeypox dwindling in the West, no vaccines for Africa

Since the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global emergency, Nigeria has seen the disease continue to spread, with few significant interventions. “We still don’t have the funds to do all the studies that we need,” says Demi Ogwena.

Placid Mbala of the Institute for Biomedical Research in the Democratic Republic of the Congo argues that research on animals that carry monkeypox and transmit it to humans in Africa is fragmented and uncoordinated.

Last week, the White House expressed optimism about the recent decline in monkeypox cases in the United States, saying authorities had administered more than 460,000 doses of the vaccine made by Bavaria Nordic.

The United States has about 35% of the world’s 56,000 cases of monkeypox, but nearly 80% of the world’s vaccine supply, according to a recent analysis by advocacy group Public Citizen.

The United States has not announced donations of a smallpox vaccine to Africa, but the White House recently asked Congress for $600 million to fund international aid. Other experts said that even if rich countries soon begin to share smallpox-fighting tools with Africa, they should not be commended.

“Countries should decide to share the remaining vaccines only when the epidemic is declining in their country,” said Piero Oliaro, Professor of Poverty Infectious Diseases at Oxford University. “It’s exactly the same scenario for Covid and it’s still completely unethical.”

Piero Oliaro, who recently returned to the UK after a trip to the Central African Republic to work on monkeypox, said the WHO emergency declaration appeared to have “no tangible benefit in Africa”. _ In Nigeria’s state of Lagos, which has the country’s largest city after being hit badly with monkeypox, some people are calling on the government to urgently do more.

“You can’t tell me the situation wouldn’t have improved without a vaccine,” says Temitayo Lawal29, the economist. “If there is no need for vaccines, why are we now seeing the United States and all these countries using them? Our government should also get doses.”

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