Africa sees 68% jump in zoonotic outbreaks over last decade

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WHO regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti. Photo: YouTube/WGO
WHO regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti. Photo: YouTube/WGO
  • The decade between 2012 and 2022 saw more zoonic infections in Africa compared to the previous one.
  • Ebola constitutes 70% of zoonic infections on the continent while monkeypox and other diseases takes up 30%.
  • Urbanisation has been highlighted by the World Health Organisation as a major driver for infections in Africa.

There has been a sharp increase in zoonotic disease outbreaks in Africa in the last decade [2012 to 2022] compared to the previous one, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

This amid the global spread of monkeypox, a zoonic disease endemic in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Gabon, Ghana (identified in animals only), Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo [Congo-Brazaville], and Sierra Leone.

"Africa is 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," the WHO said in a statement.

A WHO report revealed that between 2001 and 2022 there were 1 843 substantiated public health events recorded in the WHO African region.

Thirty percent of these events were zoonotic disease outbreaks. 

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% of public health events.

ALSO READ | Top WHO official on how they limited the recent Ebola outbreak in DRC

By 2022, zoonotic infections accounted for more than 60% of public health crises for the decade.

"There has been a 63% increase in the number of zoonotic outbreaks in the region in the decade from 2012 to 2022 compared to 2001 to 2011," the WHO said.

Ebola, which was recently contained after a 14th outbreak in the DRC since 1976, is the most common of the zoonotic infections in Africa, followed by monkeypox.

"[The] Ebola virus disease and other viral haemorrhagic fevers constitute nearly 70% of these outbreaks; with dengue fever, anthrax, plague, monkeypox, and a range of other diseases making up the remaining 30%," the WHO said.

The observation of a spike in zoonotic disease is partly because of increased surveillance in Nigeria and the DRC which is attributed to laboratory testing capacity in the countries.

Monkeypox cases in Africa have breached the 2 000 mark so far this year and the average age of those infected was 17, according to a WHO report.

"From 1 January to 8 July 2022, there have been 2 087 cumulative monkeypox cases, of which only 203 were confirmed. 

"The overall case fatality rate for the 203 confirmed cases is 2.4%. Of the 175 confirmed cases for which there is case-specific data, 53% were male and the median age was 17 years," the organisation said.

Why the rise in infections?

The WHO attributed this to Africa's growing population and demand for food.

"Africa has the world's fastest-growing population and there is a growing demand for food derived from animals, including meat, poultry, eggs, and milk," it said.

The WHO's regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Africa said although transmission between humans and animals was not a new phenomenon, urbanisation had made it worse in Africa.

She added:

With improved transportation in Africa, there is an increased threat of zoonotic pathogens travelling to large urban centres.

"Zoonotic diseases are caused by spillover events from animals to humans. Only when we break down the walls between disciplines, can we tackle all aspects of the response."

Moeti was speaking at a virtual press conference on Thursday, where she was joined by Dr Franklin Asiedu Bekoe, the director of public health at the Ghana Health Service and Dr Karim Tounkara, the regional representative for Africa for the World Organisation for Animal Health.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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