Seven African countries have cumulatively reported nearly 1400 monkeypox cases so far this year, with 1,392 suspected and 44 confirmed cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday in a statement.
The cases have been reported from Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Liberia, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, and Sierra Leone, said the WHO regional office for Africa, noting that the number of cases in 2022 is slightly fewer than half of the cases reported in 2021.
While the virus has not spread to new non-endemic countries in Africa, within countries with outbreaks, the virus has been expanding its geographic reach in recent years. Until 2019, monkeypox in Nigeria was reported mainly in the south of the country but since 2020, the virus has moved into central, eastern, and northern parts of the country.
"We must avoid having two different responses to monkeypox - one for Western countries which are only now experiencing significant transmission and another for Africa," said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.
"We must work together and have joined-up global actions which include Africa's experience, expertise, and needs. This is the only way to ensure we reinforce surveillance and better understand the evolution of the disease while scaling up readiness and response to curb any further spread," said Moeti.
Monkeypox was first detected in humans in 1970 in the African region and since then most cases have been reported in rural and rainforest areas. For decades, only a few cases were reported sporadically. Then in 2017, there was a sudden spike, with more than 2,800 suspected cases reported in five countries. This surge continued, peaking in 2020 with more than 6,300 suspected cases, with the DRC accounting for 95 percent of the total. The numbers then dropped in 2021 to around 3,200 suspected cases.
"Africa has successfully contained past monkeypox outbreaks and from what we know about the virus and modes of transmission, the rise in cases can be stopped," said Moeti. "It is critical that the continent has equal access to effective monkeypox vaccines and that globally we ensure vaccine doses reach every community in need. While parts of the continent might have built up some immunity against the disease, there are populations that are particularly vulnerable such as health workers and contacts of cases."
Since the global eradication of smallpox in 1979, monkeypox has emerged as the most prevalent orthopoxvirus infection in humans. Vaccination against smallpox has been shown to be protective against monkeypox. A new vaccine against smallpox and monkeypox has been approved but is not yet widely available.
Monkeypox is common in wild animals like primates and rodents, but humans can also get infected. Symptoms include skin rashes, fever, headache, muscle ache, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and exhaustion. The rash eventually forms a scab, which later falls off, indicating that the person is no longer infectious.