Animal-borne epidemics have increased by more than 60% in the last decade in Africa, according to WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa warns of rising zoonotic epidemics on the African continent. Diseases transmitted by animals to humans continue to increase and spread. In particular, population growth and urbanization.

Dengue, Ebola or monkey pox. Cases of these diseases transmitted by animals to humans have jumped lately in Africa according to the WHO: 63% more over the last decade. The increase was observed from the beginning of the 2000s with “a particular peak” recorded in 2019 and 2020. The majority of epidemics that broke out in Africa were caused by pathogens – viruses, bacteria and fungi – transmitted by animals.

We must act now to stem zoonotics, before they can cause widespread infections, and prevent Africa from becoming the epicenter of emerging infectious diseases

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Africa Regional Director

The WHO analysis highlights, for example, an increase “meaningful” monkeypox cases since April 2022, compared to the same period in 2021. This increase is mainly observed in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.

It could be partly attributed to the strengthening of virus surveillance and laboratory analysis capacities in these countries, according to the UN agency. In addition to the increase in cases, it is the spread of the virus that worries the WHO. It is no longer confined to certain African countries but now affects several countries in the world. To date, there have been more than 10,000 cases in around 60 countries.

Several reasons, explains the WHO, are at the origin of the increase in epidemics of zoonoses – infectious diseases which pass from animals to humans – in Africa. This region of the world has the fastest population growth. As a result, urbanization is increasing and encroaching on wildlife habitats. The development of infrastructure and means of transport is also an important factor in the circulation of viruses that move from rural or sparsely populated areas to large urban centers.

“Animal-borne infections that transfer to humans have been around for centuries, but the risk of mass infections and deaths was relatively limited in Africa. Poor transport infrastructure was a natural barrier”

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Africa Regional Director

To address the rise of zoonotic diseases in Africa, WHO recommends a one-size-fits-all health approach. In other words, collaboration between scientists and experts from all sectors – environment, food and agriculture in particular in order to “preventing and controlling diseases like Ebola, monkeypox and other coronaviruses”.

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