The World Health Organisation says Africa is facing a growing risk of outbreaks caused by zoonotic pathogens such as the monkeypox virus.
There has been a 63 per cent increase in the number of zoonotic outbreaks in the region in the decade from 2012 to 2022 compared to 2001-2011, according to WHO analysis.
Zoonotic disease is any of a group of diseases that can be transmitted to humans by nonhuman vertebrate animals, such as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
“More than 75 per cent of emerging infectious diseases are caused by pathogens shared with wild or domestic animals,” said WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, during a media briefing on Thursday. “They (zoonotic) account for a substantial burden of disease, resulting in about a billion sick people and millions of deaths globally every year.”
The analysis found that since 2001, 1,843 substantiated public health events were recorded in the African region – 30 per cent of which were zoonotic outbreaks, as animal-to-human diseases are known.
While the numbers have increased over the past two decades, 2019 and 2020 saw a particular spike, with zoonotic pathogens accounting for half of all public health events.
Moreover, Ebola and similar fevers triggering blood loss from damaged vessels (haemorrhagic) constitute nearly 70 per cent of these outbreaks, including monkeypox, dengue fever, anthrax and plague.
Although there has been an increase in monkeypox since April, compared to the same period in 2021, the numbers are still lower than the 2020 peak, when the region recorded its highest-ever monthly cases.
Following a sudden drop in 2021, 203 confirmed cases of monkeypox have been recorded in the region since the beginning of the year, as the zoonotic disease spreads worldwide into many countries where it has not been endemic.
“Available data for 175 of the cases this year in Africa, indicate that just over half the patients when averaged out, were 17-year-old men,” said Ms Moeti. “Africa cannot be allowed to become a hotspot for emerging infectious diseases.”