LONDON — The number of outbreaks of diseases that jumped from animals to humans in Africa has surged by more than 60% in the last decade, the World Health Organization said, a worrying sign the planet could face increased animal-borne diseases like monkeypox, Ebola and coronavirus in the future.
The U.N. said that there has been an increase of 63% in animal diseases breaking the species barrier between 2012 and 2022 compared with the previous decade.
According to WHO, there was a significant spike in 2019-2020 when disease originating from animals and later infected human beings made up the majority of major public health events in Africa. Ebola, other hemorhagic fevers and diseases like plague, monkeypox and dengue were the main causes of 70% of these outbreaks.
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“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,” WHO’s Africa director, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said in a statement.
She said that although diseases of animals have infected humans for many centuries in Africa for decades, modern developments such as faster travel across continents make it much easier for viruses to spread.
WHO also noted that Africa has the world’s fastest-growing population, which increases urbanization and reduces roaming areas for wild animals. Scientists also fear that outbreaks that may have once been contained to distant, rural areas can now spread more quickly to Africa’s large cities with international travel links, that might then carry the diseases around the world.
Ebola in West Africa began in 2014. It was only after the disease reached capital cities that it spread explosively. The virus eventually killed more than 10,000 people, and then arrived in many cities across Europe and the United States.
Up until May, monkeypox wasn’t known to be a major cause of disease in other parts than central and West Africa. This virus has already been killing people for years. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there have been more than 11,000 monkeypox cases in 65 countries. Most of these countries had never reported it before.
WHO has announced it will host an emergency meeting to determine if monkeypox needs to be declared a worldwide emergency. The agency stated last month that the epidemic did not warrant a declaration, but it said that they would be reviewing issues like whether monkeypox is infecting children or more severely ill people.
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