World Health Organization (WHO) director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has now officially declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).
Before a PHEIC was declared, Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, told Scientific American that earlier action would have drawn additional attention to the disease and spurred countries to assess the risks and be better prepared. She added that it would also have made more funding and resources available to African countries—where monkeypox has been endemic for decades—to respond to the disease.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), additional resources could have helped expand response efforts to many provinces that had suspected cases but were not being supported by current partners, according to Justin Masumu, dean of the faculty of veterinary medicine at DRC’s National Pedagogical University.
Christian Happi, director of African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases, disagrees with some aspects of the WHO’s handling of the monkeypox outbreak, describing them as shameful.
According to him, there was no talk of using the world’s stockpile of smallpox vaccine for monkeypox when cases were only being reported in African countries.
“But today, now that they have monkeypox in the Global North, they’re now mobilizing stuff, and it’s a shame for the WHO to do that,” he says.
In Nigeria, monkeypox reemerged in 2017.
Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, acting director of the Africa CDC, revealed in a press briefing on July 21 that there are no smallpox vaccine doses on the continent. In sharp contrast, the U.S. government has already distributed more than 191,000 doses of vaccines in response to monkeypox. On July 15 it added 131,000 doses of Bavarian Nordic’s JYNNEOS monkeypox vaccine to its stockpile, and 786,000 more doses are expected by the end of the month. The country also has about 100 million doses of ACAM2000, a Food and Drug Administration–licensed vaccine for smallpox that also works against monkeypox. A similar vaccination rollout is also underway in the U.K., which has recently acquired an additional 100,000 vaccine doses.
“Our lives are not the same; their lives are worth more than ours,” Happi says, referring to people in African nations versus those in wealthy Western countries. “But unfortunately for them, because you think you’re only neglecting some other people, you will keep having the disease in your backyard, you will keep struggling with it. Any outbreak anywhere should concern the whole world, which is not how they are dealing with it now.”