Monkeypox: DRC research could lead the way in eradicating the disease

A medical laboratory technician shows a suspected monkeypox sample at the microbiology laboratory of La Paz Hospital on June 06, 2022 in Madrid, Spain. (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

  • Two monkeypox research projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo could provide the best defence against the disease.
  • The DRC began the research in 2017, using vaccines among healthcare workers.
  • Monkeypox vaccines are limited.

While the world grapples with monkeypox, science from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where the first case was detected in 1970, could lead the way in eradicating the disease.

Dr Peter Fonjungo, director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo headed a five-year-old vaccination and research initiative about the containment of monkeypox.

The Ministry of Health, Kinshasa School of Public Health and US Centers for Disease Control began the research in 2017, using vaccines among healthcare workers.

Fonjungo said:

At the end of the study there were no vaccine-associated severe side-effects reported. One participant was infected with monkeypox after caring for a patient. This infection was not severe and he recovered. Studies showed that he mounted an immune response after receiving the second dose of the vaccine.

Later this year, a study on the persistence of immunity against the disease will be undertaken.

“This study will involve administering a single dose of the vaccine to a cohort of up to 300 previously studied participants, three years and above, following primary vaccination. This study is one example of taking the monkeypox research agenda and putting it to good use. There’s need for more research on the continent,” he added.

READ | Monkeypox cases confirmed in 8 African countries, WHO calls meeting to assess global threat

A demand for vaccines has increased sharply in countries that never had monkeypox in the past. Most of them are in Europe and plans for a rollout are under way.

However, World Health Organisation (WHO) regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said the vaccines were limited. Therefore, the continent should work on manufacturing its own vaccines via the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC)

Lessons from Covid-19

If monkeypox is declared a global pandemic, Africa should avoid lagging behind, like it did with the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.

As such, the WHO is working on a continental drive to strengthen the architecture of pandemic preparedness and response in Africa. 

The WHO said in a statement: 

This is critical for protecting and saving African lives as evidenced by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The initiative will be driven by the African Union’s Africa CDC.

But while such a programme has its benefits, it could have negative economic impacts for the continent.

“It is important to assess the benefits and the risks for African member states. Such a mechanism could reduce Africa’s dependence on others but could also trigger more travel and trade restrictions and isolate the continent, as occurred with the emergence of the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus,” Moeti said.


When the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was discovered in South Africa and Botswana, most European countries banned travel to and from affected areas. For South Africa, at least R1 billion (US$61.9 million) in bookings were cancelled, including flights, holiday packages, according to figures from the Tourism Business Council of South Africa.

For now, there are no official monkeypox-related travel bans between countries but people who have a travel history from countries that have a long history of monkeypox are monitored.

ALSO READ | WHO set to decide if monkeypox represents health emergency

Dr Abdou Salam Gueye, the regional emergency director at the WHO, who has expertise in health security, emergency outbreak response, epidemiology, the use of information technology in global health, and health system strengthening, said organisations such as the WHO will have to step in to prevent Africa from being isolated after pandemics are declared.

“It needed some leaders in Africa to speak out and restrictions were limited and later lifted. There is a whole process in the world in the international health regulations where the director-general of the WHO can declare a public health emergency of international concern.

“If it is not done by the same organisation, we can have a confusion in semantics and action that may delay the confirmation,” he said.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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