‘The government has done nothing’: Mexican and Brazilian backlash against monkeypox raises concern

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Francisco’s wounds began after he returned home to Mexico City from California in late June: First, two points on his buttocks. Then, a week later, lesions were all over his body, and his mouth was so full of sores that he could barely speak or drink water.

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

Francisco has had one of at least 59 monkeypox cases confirmed in Mexico since May, which experts believe may be an underestimate.

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

The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency on July 23, drawing further attention from regional officials. However, some doctors and activists in Latin America’s two largest countries told Reuters the response had been too tepid.

“We don’t see the necessary measures that were taken, nor the necessary importance that was given to monkeypox,” said Dr. Sergio Montalvo, a sexual health specialist in Mexico City.

Doctors like Montalvo fear that authorities have not learned lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has strained health systems and left governments cash-strapped.

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

Brazil’s Ministry of Health announced an emergency plan on July 28, more than a month after its first case and a day before the first monkeypox death outside Africa in the current outbreak was reported. Read more

Peru reported its first monkey wall-related death on Monday, the director of a public hospital told local media.

“We were already getting news of outbreaks in Europe and the United States, but the government did nothing,” said Vinicius Borges, an infectious disease specialist in São Paulo. He said the pain from monkeypox had “serious effects” on his patients.

Neither Mexico nor Brazil’s health ministries responded to multiple requests for an interview.

Following the WHO’s announcement, Mexico’s health ministry launched a website on monkeypox and its second advisory with information about the virus – the first since the country confirmed a case in May.

Ricardo Baruch, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender health researcher who helped organize a protest in Mexico City last week to demand more efforts to target prevention at men who have sex with men (MSM) said.

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

Mexican health authorities have avoided emphasizing the risks to this group.

“They don’t want to create a stigma, but if they don’t talk about it, the policies won’t focus on us,” Baruch said.

Microbiologist Natalia Pasternak also expressed concern about the Brazil letters.

“The federal government has made no effort to raise awareness among the population about how monkeypox is infected, how it is transmitted from person to person, how to recognize lesions on the skin and how closely it can be transmitted,” Pasternak said.

On July 25, Health Minister Marcelo Quiroga said the Brazilian government had “done its duty” to prepare, pointing to four laboratories carrying out the tests.

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

And in one possible sign of progress, the Pan American Health Organization said on July 27 that ten countries in the region had expressed interest in getting a vaccine.

It’s not too late to curb the spread of monkeypox in the Americas, said Dr. Andrea Vicari, director of the Infectious Threats Department at the Pan American Health Organization.

“Even if we don’t have vaccines, we have other control measures in place. If we apply them well, we will be able to achieve our goals of reducing transmission.”

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Reporting and writing by Brendan O’Boyle; Additional reporting by Carolina Polis and Marco Aquino Editing by Christian Plumb and Nick Szyminski

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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