By: Justicia Shipena
Former health minister Bernard Haufiku says that despite monkeypox’s uncertain trajectory, the disease is reported to be largely confined to homosexuals.
This comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO), over the weekend, declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern.
With nearly 16,000 reported cases worldwide and counting, monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus, and it is part of the same family of viruses as variola virus, the virus that causes smallpox.
“We don’t know the trajectory of the monkeypox outbreak. We know that, for now, it is largely confined to people of homosexual orientation. That is, men who have sex with men, the vast majority of cases are reported among that population,” said Haufiku.
He stated that the danger lies in that these people are already marginalised, discriminated against, and even stigmatised.
“Now, if the disease comes up like in the case of HIV, they will be discriminated against and stigmatised. In the meantime, the disease will spread under the radar. That is one danger,” he said.
According to a report by the UNAIDS, in 2019, the risk of HIV was 26 times higher for gay men and other men who have sex with men than for the rest of the adult male population. The report also states that in the same year, 23 people with new HIV infections were among gay men and other men who have sex with men.
“I think we need to address that population of people in Namibia and sub-Saharan Africa in case the cases are reported like in Europe,” said Haufiku.
He added if health systems addressed it, it would take care of homosexuals with dignity, respect and human rights and without stigmatisation.
“If we continue to do this in the sector, then we are not winning the battle.”
He rubber-stamped that monkeypox has increased over a period of time, adding that it is spreading a little bit like wildfires when one looks at the figures.
Globally, there have so far been 16 016 monkeypox cases, 4 132 of which were in the past week, according to WHO data.
The virus is now in 75 countries, including neighbouring South Africa, and five deaths have been reported. The European region has the highest number of total cases, at 11 865, and the highest increase in the last seven days, with 2 705.
While European countries have been hardest hit, cases have also been reported in the US, Canada, Australia, Nigeria, Israel, Brazil and Mexico, among others.
Last month, Namibia’s neighbouring South Africa announced its first confirmed case of monkeypox. Haufiku said it being recorded in South Africa means it can be in Namibia anytime.
“Reporting it next door means that anytime it can be here. It might be here already, but we haven’t picked it up,” he said.
According to him, There is a need for every country, health system or ministry to always prepare for the worst so that they are not caught off guard.
“My message is to be prepared and be respectful of every human right and dignity of every person who seeks help, and systems must be in place.”
Haufiku also pledged to the community to listen to validated scientific information from trusted sources on the matter.
“Despite what we went through with Covid-19, I think we must be pulling one direction and listening to validated, scientific information from trusted sources. Not just any WhatsApp messages, and I would assure them that monkeypox is not as deadly and dangerous as it spreads the way it does. The mortality rate is less than one per cent,” he said.
Meanwhile, health ministry executive director Ben Nangombe says Namibia continues to monitor developments on matters related to health as they unfold.
“When the outbreak of monkeypox was reported in the beginning, we informed the nation, our health directorates around the country to put ourselves on a footing for preparedness so that we can have a tighten index on suspicion when suspected cases are identified,” he said.
Nangombe explained that the ministry had deployed surveillance capabilities and a high suspicion index.
“These surveillance activities are ongoing, and we capacitated our laboratories to be able to test for monkeypox locally, and that is what we are doing.”
He added that the health ministry is on high alert.
“Our health workers at facilities have a high index of suspicion if there are suspected cases of that nature. If something is consistent with the definition of monkeypox, we look into those cases and conduct the necessary test,” said Nangombe.
Despite Namibia not recording any case of monkeypox thus far, the executive director advised the public to visit health facilities should they have a suspicion.
“If someone feels that they suspect that they are infected, they should approach health facilities to get appropriate treatment or be tested if that is the case.”
Since May 2022, monkeypox has been reported as the first multi-country outbreak of monkeypox and is already the largest outbreak of monkeypox recorded.