Monkeypox A Cause For Concern: South African Health Minister

South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said although there were three vaccines available for monkeypox worlwide, none of them were available in South Africa yet.

Monkeypox Virus Outbreak

Monkeypox virus remains a cause for concern to South Africa, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said on Friday, amid rising number of cases in the country.

“Although monkeypox causes less severe illness, the current rising numbers and the positive cases has become a cause of concern and therefore, we cannot ignore it," Phaahla told media here.

“I’m saying this because on August 17 we got a report from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) that we have had our fifth positive case of monkeypox, which was in a 28-year-old male from Johannesburg with a travel history of Europe, the Netherlands and Spain as well,” Phaahla said.

Phaahla said that at this stage no link has been established between these five cases, but the NICD is investigating a possible link between the last two cases as both persons infected had been to Spain, which has already recorded 5,000 positive cases and two deaths resulting from monkeypox.

The minister emphasised that the four earlier cases had been mild infections from which all had recovered. One of them, a tourist from Switzerland, had already returned home.

The fifth case is also very mild, as confirmed by a private laboratory. Phaahla advised caution for those travelling.

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) has not recommended any travel restrictions, but those travelling should exercise maximum caution,” he said.

Phaahla said although there were three vaccines available for monkeypox worlwide, none of them were available in South Africa yet.

The minister said that although smallpox vaccinations had been discontinued in the country since 1984 after it was eliminated worldwide, those over 40 would have some form of immunity from Monkeypox because of their earlier smallpox vaccinations.

“Scientists have advised that at this moment there is no need for mass vaccination because the situation remains under control. But what I need to indicate therefore is that while this is the case, we are monitoring the situation, working with our scientists, and we will be asking our Ministerial Advisory Committee on vaccination also to weigh into this and advise us in terms of what the situation should be,” Phaahla said.

Phaahla said there were currently no registrations for smallpox or monkeypox vaccines or anti-virus with the regulatory authority.

Commenting on the lifting of all Covid-19 restrictions two months ago, Phaahla said this had been vindicated by the fact that infections and hospitalisation had continued to decline in South Africa.

Globally, there are more than 40,000 cases of monkeypox, of which about half are in Europe. Earlier this week, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there has been a 20% increase in cases reported in the last two weeks and that nearly all infections have been reported in men who are gay, bisexual or have sex with other men. WHO said there is no sign of sustained transmission beyond men who have sex with men, although a small number of women and children have also been sickened by the disease.