Animal epidemics in Africa have increased by 60% in the last decade

LONDON — The number of disease outbreaks that have jumped from animals to humans in Africa has risen by more than 60% in the past decade, the World Health Organization has said, a worrying sign the planet could make facing an increase in animal-borne diseases like monkey pox, Ebola and coronavirus in the future.

There has been a 63% increase in the number of animal diseases crossing the species barrier between 2012 and 2022, compared to the previous decade, the United Nations health agency said in a statement on Thursday.

There was a particular spike from 2019 to 2020, when animal-borne diseases that then infected humans accounted for half of all significant public health events in Africa, the WHO said. Diseases like Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers were responsible for 70% of these outbreaks, in addition to diseases like monkeypox, dengue fever, anthrax and plague.

Read more: What is monkeypox and should you be concerned?

“We must act now to contain zoonotic diseases before they cause widespread infections and prevent Africa from becoming a hotspot for emerging infectious diseases,” said WHO Africa Director Dr. Dr Matshidiso Moeti, in a statement.

While animal diseases have infected humans for centuries in Africa, recent developments such as faster travel across the continent have made it easier for viruses to cross borders, she said.

The WHO also noted that Africa has the fastest growing population in the world, which is increasing urbanization and reducing areas where wild animals roam. Scientists also fear that outbreaks that might have been contained in remote rural areas are now spreading more rapidly to major African cities with international connections, which could then carry diseases around the world.

During the Ebola epidemic in West Africa which began in 2014, it was not until the disease arrived in capitals that its spread became explosive, eventually killing more than 10,000 people and affecting several cities in Europe and the United States.

Until May, monkeypox was not known to cause significant outbreaks beyond central and west Africa, where it has been sickening people for decades. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are now more than 11,000 cases worldwide in 65 countries, the majority of which had not previously reported monkeypox.

The WHO has announced that it will hold an emergency meeting next week to assess whether monkeypox should be declared a global emergency. Last month, the agency said the outbreak did not yet warrant the statement, but said it would examine issues such as whether monkeypox could infect more vulnerable populations like children, and whether the virus causes more serious illness.

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