Scientists Warn That Negative Attitudes Towards Homosexual Men Could Exacerbate Congo’s Largest Mpox Outbreak
The country of Congo is currently struggling with its largest outbreak of mpox, and scientists are cautioning that discrimination against gay and bisexual men in Africa could exacerbate the situation.
In November, the World Health Organization stated that monkeypox, also referred to as mpox, was being transmitted through sexual activity in Congo for the first time.
This marks a major deviation from previous outbreaks, where the virus primarily affected individuals who had come into contact with infected animals.
For many years, Mpox has been present in certain regions of central and west Africa. However, it wasn’t until 2022 that it was officially reported to be transmitted through sexual activity. Out of the 91,000 individuals infected in around 100 nations that year, the majority were men who identified as gay or bisexual.
According to Dimie Ogoina, an expert in infectious diseases at Niger Delta University in Nigeria, failure to report symptoms in Africa may lead to the spread of the outbreak in hidden or secretive ways.
According to Ogoina, it is possible that due to the laws prohibiting homosexuality in many regions of Africa, individuals may be hesitant to report if they believe they have contracted mpox.
Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that they discovered the initial instances of a more severe form of mpox being transmitted through sexual contact in Congo last year. This discovery was made after a man from Belgium, who identified as having sexual relations with other men, arrived in Kinshasa, the capital of Congo. The U.N. health agency reported that an additional five individuals who had sexual contact with the man also contracted mpox.
In 2019, Ogoina and his team discovered that mpox could be transmitted through sexual activity, a potential that had been underestimated in Africa for years.
The lack of adequate monitoring poses a difficulty in determining the number of mpox cases related to sexual activity, according to him. However, he pointed out that the majority of mpox cases in Nigeria are contracted by individuals who have not had contact with animals.
In the country of Congo, there have been approximately 13,350 potential instances of mpox, resulting in 607 fatalities as of the end of November. However, only about 10% of these cases have been verified by laboratory tests. The extent to which infections were transmitted through sexual contact is not definitively known. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 70% of cases occur in individuals under the age of 15.
During a recent visit to the Congo to evaluate the outbreak, representatives from the World Health Organization discovered that health workers were not aware of the possibility of sexual transmission of mpox, leading to overlooked cases.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that health officials have verified the transmission of mpox between male partners and also through heterosexual intercourse in various regions of the nation.
The typical symptoms of Mpox include a fever, skin rash, lesions, and muscle soreness for a duration of approximately one month. It is transmitted through close contact and the majority of individuals recover without requiring medical intervention.
In the midst of the global health crisis in 2022, several countries such as Canada, Britain, and the U.S. implemented widespread vaccinations, primarily focusing on gay and bisexual men who were at a higher risk. However, specialists predict that this approach may not be effective in Africa due to factors such as discrimination against the gay population.
Dr. Boghuma Titanji, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, believes that there will not be the same demand for vaccines in Africa as there was in the Western world last year.
According to her, the group of gay and bisexual men who are most susceptible to mpox may hesitate to participate in a wide-scale immunization effort. She suggests that countries should find methods to administer the shots in a manner that avoids stigmatizing them.
According to Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyemba, the head of Congo’s National Institute of Biomedical Research, two provinces in Congo have observed outbreaks of mpox transmitted through sexual activity, which is a worrisome development.
According to Muyemba, there is currently no authorized vaccine available in Congo, making it challenging to obtain an adequate number of doses for a widespread vaccination campaign. The country is attempting to acquire a Japanese smallpox vaccine, but there are complications due to regulatory hurdles.
Currently, there is only one approved vaccine for mpox, produced by Bavarian Nordic in Denmark. However, the supply is extremely limited and even if it were available, it would require approval from African nations or the World Health Organization. So far, the vaccine has only been accessible in Congo for research purposes.
Ogoina warned that if more action is not taken to prevent outbreaks in Africa, mpox will continue to spread to new populations. He also cautioned that the disease may also lead to outbreaks in other countries, as seen in the global emergency declared by the WHO last year.