The United Nations has confirmed the transmission of mpox through sexual contact in the Democratic Republic of Congo, marking the first time this has been reported in the country during a widespread outbreak.

The World Health Organization has announced that it has verified the sexual transmission of mpox in Congo, marking the first time this has been confirmed. This comes as the country is facing its largest outbreak yet, a concerning development that African scientists fear could hinder efforts to contain the disease.

On Thursday evening, the United Nations’ health organization announced that a person from Belgium visited Congo in March and was found to have contracted mpox, also known as monkeypox, shortly thereafter. The WHO revealed that this individual identified as a man who engages in sexual activity with other men and had visited various underground establishments for gay and bisexual men.

Five of his sexual partners were later diagnosed with mpox, according to WHO.

“This discovery serves as the first concrete evidence of monkeypox being transmitted through sexual contact in Africa,” stated Oyewale Tomori, a virologist from Nigeria who is a member of multiple advisory committees for the WHO. “The previous belief that this mode of transmission was not possible in this region has now been proven false.”

For many years, Mpox has been present in certain areas of central and west Africa. It is typically transmitted to humans from infected rodents and has resulted in small outbreaks. However, in the past year, there have been widespread epidemics in over 100 countries, primarily among gay and bisexual men in Europe. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified this outbreak as a global emergency, with approximately 91,000 cases reported to date.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that there are numerous exclusive clubs in Congo where men engage in sexual activities with other men. These clubs have members who also travel to other regions in Africa and Europe. The agency characterized the recent outbreak of mpox as uncommon and emphasized the potential for the disease to spread within sexual networks.

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that the mpox outbreak in Congo this year has affected over 12,500 individuals and caused approximately 580 deaths. This is also the first time that the disease has been reported in the capital city of Kinshasa and in the province of South Kivu, which has been experiencing conflict. According to WHO, these numbers are about twice as high as the mpox cases in 2020, making it the largest outbreak ever recorded in Congo.

According to virologist Tomori, the reported numbers are likely lower than the actual number of cases and have consequences for other parts of Africa due to inconsistent disease monitoring on the continent.

“It is possible that what is occurring in Congo is also occurring in other regions of Africa,” he stated. “The spread of monkeypox through sexual contact is probably prevalent here, but (homosexual) communities may be concealing it due to strict (anti-LGBTQ+) legislation in various countries,” he included.

He cautioned that pushing high-risk individuals underground could worsen efforts to control the spread of the virus.

The mpox virus results in symptoms such as high body temperature, shivering, skin irritation, and sores on the face or reproductive organs. The majority of individuals heal within a few weeks without needing to be admitted to a hospital.

The World Health Organization stated that there is a significant risk of mpox spreading to other countries in Africa and globally. They also warned that the potential consequences could be more severe than the worldwide epidemic seen last year.

Tomori expressed regret that although the outbreaks of mpox in Europe and North America led to large-scale immunization efforts among affected communities, there were no similar proposals for Africa.

“Although there have been thousands of cases in Congo, there has been no delivery of vaccines,” he mentioned. Even after the outbreaks of smallpox had decreased in the Western world, there were limited options for vaccinations or treatment available in Africa.

For years, it has been acknowledged in Africa that monkeypox is a significant issue,” he stated. “The recent confirmation of sexual transmission should serve as a wake-up call for everyone to treat it with greater concern.”


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