‘Government did nothing’: Mexican and Brazilian responses to monkeypox spark concern

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MEXICO CITY, Aug 1 (Reuters) – Francisco’s injuries began after he returned to Mexico City from California in late June: first, two spots on his buttocks. Then, a week later, lesions all over his body, his mouth so full of sores he could barely speak or drink water.

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

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

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In Latin America, Mexico ranks behind Brazil and Peru for confirmed cases of the viral illness, which has mainly spread to gay and bisexual men like Francisco.

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

“We don’t see the necessary action being taken, nor the necessary prominence being given to monkeypox,” said Mexico City sexual health specialist Dr. Sergio Montalvo.

Doctors like Montalvo fear authorities have learned the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has strained health systems and left governments strapped for cash.

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 health ministry announced a contingency plan on July 28, more than a month after its first case and a day before reporting the first death from monkeypox outside of Africa in the current outbreak. Read more

“We were already receiving information about the epidemic in Europe and the United States, but the government did nothing,” said Vinicius Borges, an infectious disease specialist in Sao Paulo. He said pain from monkeypox lesions had had “serious effects” on his patients.

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

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

“In those two months, we could have already made significant progress,” said Ricardo Baruch, an LGBT health researcher who helped organize a protest in Mexico City last week demanding greater efforts to target prevention. on men who have sex with men (MSM).

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

Mexican health authorities have avoided highlighting the risks for this group.

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

Microbiologist Natalia Pasternak also expressed concern about the messages from Brazil.

“The federal government has made no effort to educate the public about how you can get monkeypox, how it is passed from person to person, how you recognize skin lesions and how it can be transmitted from near or far sexual contact,” Pasternak said.

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

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

In a 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, director of infectious threat management at PAHO, said it was not too late to curb the spread of monkeypox in the Americas.

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

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Reporting and writing by Brendan O’Boyle; Additional reporting by Carolina Pulice Editing by Christian Plumb and Nick Zieminski

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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