Since the recent announcements of monkeypox outbreak in Europe and America, Prof. Christian Happi has granted several interviews to journalists across the world. Here, we present some of the recurring themes of such conversations. These are highlights of our position on the ongoing monkeypox pandemic.
What would you say about the recent global media attention to Monkeypox?
- There has been a double standard in the reporting of diseases of public health importance. Monkeypox has been in West Africa for very long but you did not hear about it. It is the same with many other diseases with epidemic or pandemic potentials.
- If the mainstream media focused on them when outbreaks occurred in low and middle-income countries, we should have overcome many of the diseases with epidemic and pandemic potentials. Now that it is in Europe and the US, they are making a noise as though it is all over the world.
- The mainstream media, instead of showing pictures of people that are presenting with the lesions, which are white men, they keep putting forward pictures of children in Africa and Africans. And there’s no connection. We find that very discriminatory, we find that very stigmatizing and to some extent … I find it very racist.
Do people (especially those at higher risk, i.e. men who have sex with men and trans men) have access to vaccines?
- First of all, it will be good to state that those at presently at higher risk in the present epidemic/pandemic (i.e. men who have sex with men and trans men are not that common in Africa).
- However, vaccines are not made available to people in the communities where there have been outbreaks of Monkeypox. This is simply because global health organizations did not think it was important to vaccinate the affected people, to stop the outbreak and protect the rest of the world.
- The current Monkeypox pandemic is the result of lack of foresight, lack of empathy and selfishness on the part of those who had and those who could have mobilized stockpiles of Smallpox vaccines.
Is there an effort to get vaccines to the African continent? How bad are cases?
- I am not sure how much effort is being put in place. African countries do not have the ability to produce their own vaccine. Even if they asked for the vaccines would they be given? Especially looking at the present situation in the global north? I doubt if they will be given.
- The cases in Africa are often not very bad. The disease has a very low case fatality rate in West Africa. In the central part of Africa there have been reported cases of death, especially in the DRC, due to the more virulent clade 1.
Has the world not learned anything about ‘leaving Africa behind’ after Covid?
- It is obvious that the world has not learned from the covid-19 pandemic. If we had learned anything, we would have been mobilizing the smallpox vaccines in all Monkepox affected countries for a rapid global containment.
- Unfortunately, what we are witnessing is a repeat of the mismanagement of the Monkeypox pandemic similar to that of covid-19. Smallpox vaccine vaccines are shared only in rich and developed countries in the global north.
- What we are forgetting is that if the situation is not quickly put under control simultaneously in Africa and the rest of the world, we might have a wider and longer spread of the virus, thus making global containment more difficult.
- Lastly, Africa cannot be left behind, because what the world is forgetting is that, we have become so interconnected to the point that it can take just about 36 hours for disease outbreaks that start in the most remote areas of anywhere in the globe to reach the major business hubs of the world. Western countries need to know that a disease of public health importance in a remote village is important to them. Diseases don’t need passports; they don’t need visas to enter into countries. They simply travel with people. And with our highly connected world, they travel faster.
How can we achieve global medical vaccine equity?
- We can achieve global medical vaccine equity when we will all realize that we are only one human species that is endangered and may be brought to extinction by microorganismsms.
- We should therefore ensure that everyone that needs a vaccine for whatever disease has access to it. Developing countries especially in Africa should endeavor to prioritize investments in vaccine manufacturing. The countries in the global north that have the technologies and the intellectual properties should transfer and share them with the rest of the world.
- We need to understand that no life is less or cheaper regardless of financial or social status or the colour of our skins.
- Global health security is very dependent on global vaccine equity.