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Minister Joe Phaahla Addresses Mpox Outbreak in South Africa: One Death Confirmed

South Africa’s Minister of Health, Joe Phaahla, held a press conference today to address the recent Mpox (formerly known as Monkeypox) outbreak in the country. Minister Phaahla reported five confirmed cases and one death due to the disease, highlighting the ongoing efforts to curb its spread and provide treatment to those affected.

Mpox, a notifiable medical condition, has been part of a global outbreak since 2022. It is transmitted through close contact and poses significant public health risks. The disease was last recorded in South Africa in 2022 with five confirmed cases but no reports in 2023.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), from January 1, 2022, to April 30, 2024, there were 97,208 laboratory-confirmed cases of Mpox and 186 deaths across 117 countries. The WHO reported a 21.2% decline in new cases in April 2024 compared to the previous month.

Minister Phaahla detailed that South Africa’s recent cases, all severe and requiring hospitalization, were reported in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces. Tragically, one of the two cases in Gauteng resulted in death on June 10, 2024, at Tembisa Hospital. All patients are males aged 30-39, without travel history to countries currently experiencing outbreaks, indicating local transmission.

Efforts to combat the outbreak include sensitizing the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) and private sector laboratories to the situation, with samples being tested at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD). Of the twelve tests conducted in 2024, five were positive. The NICD and provincial outbreak response teams are actively conducting epidemiological surveillance and contact tracing.

To date, 38 contacts have been identified and monitored in KwaZulu-Natal, with additional contacts being traced in Gauteng. The Minister emphasized the importance of community engagement and risk communication to prevent stigma and encourage timely healthcare access.

Currently, there is no registered treatment for Mpox in South Africa. However, the Department of Health has acquired Tecovirimat (TPOXX) for compassionate use to treat severe cases. 

Three of the five patients received this treatment, which was approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAPHRA) and donated by the WHO. Plans are in place to obtain a stockpile of Tecovirimat to address potential wider outbreaks.

Vaccination strategies are also under consideration, with the National Advisory Group for Immunisation (NAGI) evaluating options for pre and post-exposure vaccinations targeting high-risk groups such as healthcare workers, laboratory workers, sex workers, and men who have sex with men (MSM).

Minister Phaahla concluded by urging the public to cooperate with health officials for contact tracing and case management to prevent further transmission and avoidable deaths. 

He emphasized the importance of early diagnosis and effective treatment to manage the outbreak effectively.

“We can disrupt the local transmission by supporting those diagnosed with this disease to take their treatment to prevent infecting others. One death is too many, especially from a preventable and manageable disease like Mpox,” said Minister Phaahla.

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