Africa is facing a growing risk of outbreaks caused by zoonotic pathogens, such as the monkeypox virus which originated in animals and then switched species and infected humans, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned Thursday, noting a 63-percent increase in the number of zoonotic outbreaks in the region from 2012 to 2022 compared to the period from 2001 to 2011.
According to the statement by the WHO regional office for Africa, citing a new WHO study, the African region has reported 1,843 substantiated public health events since 2001, 30 percent of which were zoonotic disease outbreaks, in particular linked to the Ebola virus, dengue fever, anthrax, plague, monkeypox and a range of other diseases.
Noting the recent increase of monkeypox outbreak, the African region has reported 2,087 cumulative monkeypox cases this year as of July 8, of which only 203 were confirmed.
The population growth on the African continent is leading to rising urbanization and encroachment on the habitats of wildlife, which increases the risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks spreading from remote areas where there are few inhabitants to large urban areas, warned the WHO.
“With improved transportation in Africa, there is an increased threat of zoonotic pathogens traveling to large urban centers. We must act now to contain zoonotic diseases before they can cause widespread infections and stop Africa from becoming a hotspot for emerging infectious diseases,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.
Stemming the rise in zoonotic diseases in Africa is complex and WHO recommends a one-health approach that requires multiple sectors, disciplines, and communities to work in collaboration. This includes a wide range of experts, including those working in human, animal, and environmental health. Routine disease surveillance information and response activities, for both animal and human health, should be shared among epidemiologists and other public health experts.
“We need all hands on deck to prevent and control zoonotic diseases such as Ebola, monkeypox, and even other coronaviruses,” said Moeti. “Zoonotic diseases are caused by spillover events from animals to humans. Only when we break down the walls between disciplines can we tackle all aspects of the response.”
Since 2008, WHO has strengthened its regional collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Organization for Animal Health to support efforts to address zoonotic outbreaks across Africa.
Recently, the three agencies worked together in the 14th Ebola outbreak, which just ended in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.