The World Health Organization has declared monkeypox (MPX) a public health emergency of international concern, the seventh such declaration since 2009. This virus, endemic in rainforest areas of Central and West Africa, is another zoonotic disease. Epidemiologists identify a direct causal relationship between environmental degradation and human diseases of non-human origin. This explains why the illness is spreading outside its usual range.
At the time of writing, more than 25,000 cases have been identified in over 80 counties, many among men who have sex with men. While not a sexually transmitted disease, it is spread through close physical contact. Symptoms include a fever and rash. Those with the virus may be unwell for up to four weeks and, when complications occur, the disease can be fatal, though this is fortunately rare.
Racist indifference. MPX was identified in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite vaccines being available to both prevent its spread and treat those exposed to it, monkeypox has continued to cause problems for people in Central and West Africa for more than half a century.
In 2017, Adesola Yinka-Ogunleye, an epidemiologist at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, warned that the virus was spreading in new ways in the cities. She now says: “the world is paying the price for not having responded adequately.”
Listen and learn. As cases now appear outside Africa, the expertise of those with direct experience responding to another global health crisis — the HIV/AIDS pandemic — will be invaluable. Affected communities must be empowered and funded to design and deliver public health messages and treatments that connect with their own experiences. Veteran AIDS activists also have much to teach about how to win what’s needed. Particularly their knowledge that, on top of the epidemic itself, the combination of homophobia, racism, nationalism and profiteering is deadly!
Having done nothing to provide vaccines and treatments in Central and West Africa, wealthy countries are now seeking to monopolise the vaccine supply, which originates from a single manufacturer in Denmark.
On August 1, activists stormed the stage at the 24th International AIDS Conference in Montreal during a special session on MPX. They demanded an equitable global sharing of testing, vaccines and treatment. They called for healthcare to be treated as a human right not a money-making opportunity.
Let’s learn from HIV/AIDS and COVID. End the vaccine patents and share the manufacturing capability so that enough doses can be produced to vaccinate all who are at risk. Viruses do not stop at borders. Solutions must be global. A health system based on profits, and not wellbeing, is a disaster that we can ill afford.