Africa in need of test kits, vaccines as monkeypox spreads

Africa has no vaccines for monkeypox and test kits are in short supply, international health agencies said on Thursday (Jun 30), warning that richer countries already appeared to be hoarding vaccines.

Monkeypox is a viral disease that causes flu-like symptoms and skin lesions. It is endemic in parts of Africa but has also recently been reported in countries with no history of human transmission, including Ghana, Morocco and South Africa.

“The geographic spread of monkeypox to parts of Africa where cases have never been detected before is a worrying sign,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) director for Africa.

“What happened in the early days of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout when Africa watched on the sidelines as other countries snapped up limited supplies must not be allowed to recur. There are some signs that this is already happening,” she said.

Monkeypox vaccines are in short supply globally and there have been no donations to countries in Africa, the WHO said.

There are no specific vaccines for monkeypox, but smallpox jabs protect against the virus.

Monkeypox is not yet a global health emergency, the WHO ruled on Saturday, although Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was deeply concerned about the outbreak.

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is treating the outbreak as an emergency, its acting director, Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, said.

“Monkeypox is an emergency here on the continent and we are calling on all our friends and partners to join us in controlling this outbreak … including making available test kits and vaccines,” he said.

The lack of testing capacity has resulted in a high number of suspected cases that cannot be confirmed, he said. More than 1,821 cases have been reported in 13 countries but only 109 are laboratory confirmed.

In recent weeks around 40 countries where monkeypox is not endemic have reported outbreaks, with more than 4,300 confirmed or suspected cases mostly in Europe.