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Unprecedented Revelation: UN Confirms First-Ever Sexual Transmission of Mpox in Congo

In a groundbreaking announcement, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed the occurrence of sexual transmission of mpox (monkeypox) in Congo for the first time. This revelation comes amid the country's most extensive outbreak of the disease, posing a significant challenge to containment efforts, as cautioned by African scientists.

The WHO disclosed in a late Thursday statement that a Belgian resident, who visited Congo in March, tested positive for mpox shortly thereafter. Strikingly, the individual identified himself as a man engaged in sexual relations with other men, revealing visits to underground clubs catering to gay and bisexual men. Alarming findings emerged as five of his sexual contacts subsequently tested positive for mpox, marking the first conclusive evidence of sexual transmission of monkeypox in Africa.

Oyewale Tomori, a Nigerian virologist and member of multiple WHO advisory groups, emphasized, "This is the first definitive proof of sexual transmission of monkeypox in Africa. The idea that this kind of transmission could not be happening here has now been debunked."

Mpox, historically prevalent in parts of central and west Africa, typically jumped to humans from infected rodents, causing limited outbreaks. However, recent instances of epidemics, primarily linked to sexual activities among gay and bisexual men in Europe, affected over 100 countries last year. WHO declared it a global emergency, resulting in approximately 91,000 cases to date.

WHO highlighted the existence of numerous discreet clubs in Congo where men engage in same-sex relations, with members traveling to various parts of Africa and Europe. Describing the current mpox outbreak as "unusual," the agency underscored the potential risk of widespread transmission within sexual networks.

Furthermore, this year's mpox outbreak in Congo, infecting over 12,500 people and claiming about 580 lives, is unprecedented. It marks the first identification of the disease in the capital, Kinshasa, and the conflict-ridden province of South Kivu. These figures, doubling the mpox toll in 2020, represent the largest outbreak in Congo to date, according to WHO.

Virologist Tomori cautioned that the reported figures might be an underestimate and have implications for the broader African region, citing the continent's often inconsistent disease surveillance. He suggested that sexual transmission of monkeypox might be established in other parts of Africa, hidden within (gay) communities due to restrictive anti-LGBTQ+ laws in several countries. The situation in Congo raises concerns about the potential for similar occurrences elsewhere in Africa, underscoring the need for vigilant monitoring and a coordinated response.

Expressing deep concern, Tomori warned that driving individuals at risk for the mpox virus underground could significantly impede efforts to control the disease. The symptoms of the mpox virus include fever, chills, and the development of rash and lesions on the face or genitals. While most people recover within weeks without hospitalization, the World Health Organization (WHO) emphasized that the risk of mpox spreading to other African countries and globally is substantial, potentially leading to more severe consequences than the worldwide epidemic experienced last year.

Tomori lamented the disparity in response, noting that previous mpox outbreaks in Europe and North America prompted extensive mass immunization campaigns among affected populations, while no such plans were being proposed for Africa. Despite thousands of cases in Congo, he pointed out the absence of vaccines, highlighting a critical gap in addressing the outbreak. Even after mpox epidemics subsided in the West, limited shots or treatments were made available for Africa. Tomori emphasized the urgency of taking monkeypox more seriously, especially now that sexual transmission has been confirmed in Africa.

The lack of a proactive response to the situation raises concerns about the potential consequences for the continent. Tomori urged heightened awareness and concerted efforts to address the issue, emphasizing that the confirmation of sexual transmission in Africa should serve as a wake-up call for everyone involved. The gravity of the situation requires a coordinated response to prevent further escalation and protect vulnerable populations.

[ The text concludes with a standard attribution disclaimer, mentioning the support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Science and Educational Media Group and clarifying that the Associated Press (AP) is solely responsible for all content.]

Expressing deep concern, Tomori warned that driving individuals at risk for the mpox virus underground could significantly impede efforts to control the disease. The symptoms of the mpox virus include fever, chills, and the development of rash and lesions on the face or genitals. While most people recover within weeks without hospitalization, the World Health Organization (WHO) emphasized that the risk of mpox spreading to other African countries and globally is substantial, potentially leading to more severe consequences than the worldwide epidemic experienced last year.

Tomori lamented the disparity in response, noting that previous mpox outbreaks in Europe and North America prompted extensive mass immunization campaigns among affected populations, while no such plans were being proposed for Africa. Despite thousands of cases in Congo, he pointed out the absence of vaccines, highlighting a critical gap in addressing the outbreak. Even after mpox epidemics subsided in the West, limited shots or treatments were made available for Africa. Tomori emphasized the urgency of taking monkeypox more seriously, especially now that sexual transmission has been confirmed in Africa.

The lack of a proactive response to the situation raises concerns about the potential consequences for the continent. Tomori urged heightened awareness and concerted efforts to address the issue, emphasizing that the confirmation of sexual transmission in Africa should serve as a wake-up call for everyone involved. The gravity of the situation requires a coordinated response to prevent further escalation and protect vulnerable populations.

[ The text concludes with a standard attribution disclaimer, mentioning the support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Science and Educational Media Group and clarifying that the Associated Press (AP) is solely responsible for all content.]