The World Health Organization (WHO) recently confirmed that monkeypox can spread through sexual transmission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This revelation comes amid the largest outbreak of monkey pox ever recorded in the country, with concerns rising over the lack of vaccines in Africa.

In a statement released by the UN health agency, they reported a case where a resident of Belgium, who identified as a man having sexual relations with other men, tested positive for monkeypox after traveling to Congo in March. The individual had visited various underground clubs for gay and bisexual men in the area, and five of his sexual contacts later tested positive for monkeypox.

This marks the first conclusive evidence of sexual transmission of monkeypox in Africa, challenging the previous belief that such transmission was not occurring in the region. Monkeypox, which has been endemic in parts of Central and West Africa, typically jumps into humans from infected rodents, causing limited outbreaks. However, recent outbreaks in Europe linked to sexual activity among gay and bisexual men prompted global concern.

The WHO highlighted the unusual nature of the current monkeypox outbreak in Congo, infecting more than 12,500 people and claiming about 580 lives. This outbreak is unique as it has reached the capital, Kinshasa, and the conflict-ridden province of South Kivu, making it the largest in the country’s history.

Nigerian virologist Oyewale Tomori, who is part of several WHO advisory groups, expressed concern that the actual figures might be higher due to patchy disease surveillance in Africa. He emphasized that the situation in Congo could be indicative of similar occurrences in other parts of Africa, with hidden cases among gay communities due to anti-LGBTQ+ laws in certain countries.

Tomori warned that driving at-risk populations underground would make it challenging to control the spread of the virus. Monkeypox symptoms include fever, chills, rash, and lesions on the face or genitals, and while most people recover without hospitalization, the risk of spreading to other countries in Africa and globally is deemed significant by the WHO.

Despite the severity of the outbreak in Congo, Tomori lamented the absence of mass immunization campaigns, which were implemented in response to monkeypox outbreaks in Europe and North America. He urged a more serious approach to addressing the issue, emphasizing the need for vaccines to combat the disease effectively in Africa.