WHO: Africa faces growing animal-to-human disease risk

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that Africa was facing a growing risk of outbreaks caused by zoonotic pathogens, such as the monkeypox virus which originated in animals and then switched species and infected humans.

“There has been a 63 per cent increase in the number of zoonotic outbreaks in the region in the decade from 2012-2022 compared to 2001-2011, according to World Health Organisation’s (WHO) analysis.

The analysis found that between 2001-2022 there were 1843 substantiated public health events recorded in the WHO African region. Thirty percent of these events were zoonotic disease outbreaks.

It also found that while these numbers have increased over the past two decades, there was a particular spike in 2019 and 2020 when zoonotic pathogens represented around 50 per cent of public health events.

The analysis found that Ebola Virus Disease and other viral hemorrhagic fevers constituted nearly 70 per cent of these outbreaks; with dengue fever, anthrax, plague, monkeypox and a range of other diseases making up the remaining 30 per cent.

The latest data on monkeypox found a significant increase in cases since April 2022, compared to the same period in 2021. The increase was mainly observed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, and could partly be attributed to enhanced monkeypox surveillance and laboratory testing capacity in the countries, though detailed investigations were underway.

“However, this upward trend is still lower than in 2020 when the region reported its highest monthly cases of monkeypox. Overall, cases of monkeypox have been rising since 2017, except in 2021 where there was a sudden drop. From January1 to July 8 2022, there have been 2087 cumulative monkeypox cases, of which only 203 were confirmed,” it stated.

The data again found that the overall case fatality rate for the 203 confirmed cases was 2.4 per cent. Of the 175 confirmed cases for which there was case-specific data, 53 per cent were male and the median age was 17 years.

It found that the increase in zoonotic cases may be due to several reasons. Africa has the world’s fastest-growing population and there was a growing demand for food derived from animals including meat, poultry, eggs, and milk. The population growth was also leading to rising urbanisation and encroachment on the habitats of wildlife. -BBC

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