Poor response to monkeypox in Mexico and Brazil draws criticism

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Francisco’s injuries began after returning home to Mexico City from California in late June: first, two spots on his buttocks. Then, a week later, ulcers all over his body, his mouth was so full of ulcers that he could hardly speak or drink water.

“The pain was indescribable, catastrophic,” said Francisco, 44, who asked Reuters to hide his real name.

Francisco had one of at least 59 monkeypox infections. confirmed in Mexico since May, which experts say may underestimate the true number.

Protesters hold signs with the inscription "Release vaccines" as well as "I am Moni, I demand my vaccine" outside the building of the Minister of Health in Mexico City, Mexico, Mexico on July 26, 2022.

Protesters hold signs reading “Release Vaccines” and “I am Moni, I demand my vaccine” outside the building of the Minister of Health in Mexico City, Mexico, Mexico July 26, 2022.
(REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)

In Latin America, Mexico trails Brazil and Peru in confirmed cases of the viral disease, which has mostly spread among gay and bisexual men like Francisco.

On July 23, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency, drawing increased attention from regional authorities. However, some doctors and activists in Latin America’s two largest countries told Reuters that the response was too lukewarm.

“We do not see that the necessary measures have been taken, and monkeypox has not been given due importance,” the doctor said. Sergio Montalvo, sexual health specialist from Mexico City.

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Doctors like Montalvo fear the authorities have not learned lessons from the COVID-19 pandemicwhich has overwhelmed health systems and left governments without money.

The story is similar in Brazil, where more than 970 infections represent more than two-thirds of the region’s total, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

The Brazilian Ministry of Health announced the contingency plan on July 28, more than a month after the first case and a day before the first death from monkeypox outside of Africa in the current outbreak was reported.

“We have already received news of the outbreak in Europe and the US, but the government has done nothing,” said Vinicius Borges, an infectious disease specialist from São Paulo. He said the pain of monkeypox lesions had a “major impact” on his patients.

Neither Mexico nor the Brazilian health ministries responded to numerous requests for interviews.

After WHO declarationThe Mexican Ministry of Health has launched a website on monkeypox and its second outreach about the virus, the first since a case was confirmed in the country in May.

An activist puts up posters at a protest against Mexico's handling of the monkeypox virus outside the Minister of Health in Mexico City, Mexico, Mexico, July 26, 2022.

An activist puts up posters at a protest against Mexico’s handling of the monkeypox virus outside the Minister of Health in Mexico City, Mexico, Mexico, July 26, 2022.
(REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)

“In these two months, we could already be making significant progress,” said Ricardo Baruch, an LGBT health researcher who helped organize a protest last week in Mexico City calling for more prevention efforts among men who have sex with men (MSM). ). ).

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 98% of the infections in the ongoing outbreak outside of Africa are among gay and bisexual men.

Mexican health authorities avoid emphasizing the risks for this group.

“They don’t want to create stigma, but if they don’t talk about it, the policy won’t be against us,” Baruch said.

Microbiologist Natalia Pasternak also expressed concern about the Brazilian reports.

“The federal government has made no effort to raise public awareness about how monkeypox can be contracted, how it is transmitted from person to person, how to recognize lesions on the skin, and how it can be transmitted through close or sexual contact,” Pasternak said.

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On July 25, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said the Brazilian government had “done their homework” to prepare, pointing to four laboratories conducting testing.

But “it will take some time to build the capacity for testing in Brazil,” said Pasternak, a member of the São Paulo state advisory board for monkeypox. “We don’t really see the intention of the Ministry of Health to do this planning.”

In one possible sign of progress, PAHO said on July 27 that ten countries in the region had expressed interest in acquiring a vaccine.

Dr. Andrea Vicari, PAHO’s director of infectious threat management, said it’s not too late to curb the spread of monkeypox in America.

“Even if we don’t have vaccines, we have other control measures. If we implement them well, we can achieve our transmission reduction targets.”