Why this Nigerian doctor is mad at media coverage of monkey pox: Goats and Soda : NPR

Monkeypox was spread by prairie dogs in the US in 2003. Above: The prairie dog Chuckles was a pet of Tammy and Steve Kautzer and their 3-year-old daughter from Dorchester, Wisconsin. They caught monkey pox from another prairie dog that has since passed away.

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Monkeypox was spread by prairie dogs in the US in 2003. Above: The prairie dog Chuckles was a pet of Tammy and Steve Kautzer and their 3-year-old daughter from Dorchester, Wisconsin. They caught monkey pox from another prairie dog that has since passed away.

Mike Roemer/Getty Images

The world is in the midst of a monkey pox outbreak. The World Health Organization has registered more than 500 cases this year in 30 countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States and a number of European countries.

And how do western media illustrate the story? The BBC, the Independent, CNBC and ABC News are among those to have used a stock photo of a black person with monkey pox blisters.

It would be as if Nigeria, which has seen 247 cases since 2017 and 66 so far this year, would exclusively use photos of white people with monkey pox to beat its national epidemic.

Absurd, right?

Africans and health equality advocates have been quick to react to the Western media’s use of black arms and monkey pox faces. Nigerian journalist Mercy Abang tweetedHere’s an example of media bias at its best; monkey pox has been reported in countries around the world, but a search only shows [photos of] blacks. Tragic.”

dr. Madhu Pai, professor of epidemiology and global health at McGill University, tweeted“Journalists and editors from global Northern media outlets urgently need training on how not to be racist and stigmatizing in their reporting on Ebola, Covid and monkeypox.”

The coverage mirrors the media coverage following the 2017 outbreak in Nigeria. I co-authored a BMJ Global Health Journal assessment of the media coverage of Monkeypox. Here’s how a story from the “Voice from Europe” publication described the first case of monkeypox in England in 2018: A “terrible Nigerian disease called monkeypox is spreading for the first time in the UK.”

The message then and now: Blame Africa for monkey pox.

Here are my suggestions for Western journalists on how to frame the monkeypox story — and advice for public health officials on how to deal with the spread of this disease.

Present the facts.

The World Health Organization describes monkey pox as a zoonosis: a disease that is transmitted from animals to humans. The virus is mainly found in Central and West Africa, often near tropical rainforests. However, it can show up anywhere in the world.

In 2003, the first outbreak of monkeypox outside Africa was reported in six US states: Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. That outbreak was caused by human contact with infected prairie dogs kept as pets. Prairie dogs are herbivorous burrowing mammals native to the grasslands of North America; the pets were reportedly infected after an Illinois pet distributor allegedly housed them near imported small mammals from Ghana.

That outbreak resulted in more than 70 reported cases, all transmitted through contact with an infected prairie dog or with a person infected by a prairie dog.

Genetic evidence shows that the international outbreak likely originated in Nigeria, but that the virus has likely been spreading in Europe and the UK for months through face-to-face contact.

Investigate the reasons behind the current outbreak.

There has always been a threat that monkeypox would spread internationally. But not so far. So the job for journalists is to talk to scientists trying to see if anything has changed about the virus and the way it’s spreading.

Watch how Africa reacts to monkey pox.

The affected countries do not have to reinvent the wheel in the fight against the spread of this virus. Africa has the expertise to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks. We do this routinely, including for monkey pox. Recently, Ifedayo Adetifa, Director General of the Nigeria Center for Disease Control, tweeted about the monkey pox experience in Nigeria:

The first case of #MonkeyPox in Nigeria was identified in 1971, and monkeypox recurred in 2017 after a 40-year hiatus. Since then we have seen and treated sporadic cases. Now that the focus is on #Monkeypox, these are @NCDCgov resources on the subject.

The resources Adetifa has shared include the National Monkeypox Public Health Response Guidelines. The document provides important information that would help Western countries respond to this outbreak and improve detection and prevention of future outbreaks. An important lesson from Nigeria is to set up a monkeypox emergency operations center to coordinate all aspects of the response, led by a senior officer from the Nigeria Center for Disease Control and supported by other global health agencies working in the country.

Finally, this is what I would tell my kids.

If my two daughters, 12-year-old Yagazie and 9-year-old Chimamanda, asked me to explain what happens to monkeypox, I would tell them this: Monkeypox outbreaks are common in Africa, but can occur anywhere. The infection is passed from some animals to humans. Human-to-human transmission occurs when a person comes into contact with ulcers and bodily fluids of infected persons. Cases are now being reported in countries outside of Africa, which deters people in those countries.

I would also give them some advice to prevent monkeypox: monkeypox is not as deadly as it seems. The strain currently circulating is usually not fatal. However, they should always remember to wash their hands when they get home from an outing, just like their mom and I taught them to do – that’s one of the measures that will protect you from infection

And if they wanted to know why there is biased coverage in the western media, I would tell them that global health has a colonial history and that some western media are holding onto the remnants of colonialism by portraying Africa as a backward, disease-ridden continent .

I would also tell them not to allow the media – or for that matter, anyone – to make them feel inferior for being black, and they need to keep pushing them back.

Ifeanyi Nsofor is the director of policy and advocacy at Nigeria Health Guard and is a senior New Voices fellow at the Aspen Institute.

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