Mpox Outbreak Alert: Largest Ever Recorded – Thousands Infected in DRC – Epidemic Declared

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo – The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is currently facing its largest outbreak of the viral mpox disease on record, with tens of thousands of individuals infected as of June. Government officials labeled it an epidemic in December 2022.

Formerly known as monkeypox, mpox is caused by the monkeypox virus and is typically zoonotic, meaning it can spread from animals to humans. The virus is prevalent in the densely forested areas of Central and West Africa and is linked to the virus responsible for eradicating smallpox. Severe cases of mpox can be fatal, characterized by an itchy rash all over the body and fever. Vaccination can help reduce the risk of infection.

While outbreaks are common in the DRC, health experts have identified a new strain of the virus in one region this time. The epidemic first emerged in May 2022 in the eastern province of Kwango and has since spread to 22 of the country’s 26 provinces, including the capital, Kinshasa. The town of Kamituga in the eastern South Kivu province has seen significant transmission, with doctors detecting a new strain of the virus there.

In the current outbreak, more than 21,000 cases and over 1,000 deaths were reported in 2022, with 2023 seeing 14,626 cases and 654 deaths. By the end of May this year, 7,851 cases had been reported, resulting in 384 deaths, with children under five accounting for 39% of the infected individuals. Equateur, Sud Ubangi, Sankuru, and South Kivu are among the hardest-hit provinces in the country.

One significant obstacle facing authorities is the ongoing conflict in the eastern region of the DRC, which limits resources and hinders efforts to track, treat, and monitor infected individuals. With only two testing laboratories in Kinshasa and Goma, only 18% of reported cases have been tested in labs.

Additionally, there is a shortage of treatment kits and vaccines in the country. While vaccines played a crucial role in containing the outbreak in wealthier nations in 2022, the DRC lacks enough vaccines to cover its population of 100 million. Despite challenges, health officials are working to secure more vaccines to combat the outbreak effectively.

Moreover, the disease’s potential for sexual transmission has added a layer of stigma and complexity to containment efforts. Lack of public awareness about mpox has made self-reporting and containment challenging, with some infected individuals leaving isolation to attend to daily activities.

The risk of transmission to other African countries remains a concern, especially due to the DRC’s close proximity and frequent border crossings with neighboring nations. Limited testing and surveillance capabilities across the continent amplify the need for regional and global collaboration in combatting the outbreak. Experts emphasize the importance of remaining vigilant and prepared to prevent the spread of infectious diseases beyond borders.