The Monkeypox Outbreak Illustrates more Wester Racism and Inequities

As the world waits to see how deadly the largest known human outbreak of monkeypox will become, we can’t forget how Western racism and the inequity of Western societies has once again led to suffering the scale of which cannot yet be determined.

Brief History of Monkeypox

We can’t have an honest discussion about an issue this significant without considering the historical events that have brought us to this point.

Although it’s likely some form of monkeypox has existed for thousands of years, it was first named and scientifically denoted in a Denmark laboratory in 1958 after a monkey colony became infected. The first proven case of human infection of monkeypox was identified in a nine-month old boy in the Democratic Republic of the Kongo in 1970. Since 1970, monkeypox cases have been recorded in 11 African countries. The number of cases is impossible to know because of a lack of testing and available medical care.

There have been cases of Monkeypox recorded in Western nations prior to this year. In 2000-3, the United States reported 47 confirmed and probable cases of monkeypox in six states after people came in contact with pet prairie dogs who were infected when housed near small mammals imported from Ghana.

As we know, the widest outbreak of human infected monkeypox to take place outside of Africa is currently ongoing. As of this writing, more than 5,500 cases of monkeypox have been recorded in 60 countries. Cases have tripled in Europe over the last two weeks.

While transmission is, as it always has been with monkeypox, most likely through close physical contact, the monkeypox virus is mutating faster than ever. Current studies are determining whether the virus can more efficiently be transmitted through the air.

Smallpox Vaccines

Monkeypox has historically been a far less transmissible, lethal virus than its cousin smallpox. Eradicated in 1980 through a campaign of vaccination and isolation, smallpox’s centuries of terror ended after claiming an estimated 300 million lives.

Historically, recent smallpox vaccines have been about 85 percent effective in protecting against monkeypox. In 2019, the latest generation of the smallpox vaccine was developed by a Danish company and approved by the World Health Organization.

Racist Inequities

With the West free of smallpox by 1980 at the latest, Western governments and corporations stopped thinking much about the smallpox vaccines and how to distribute them effectively to fight monkeypox in Africa. Even after a severe outbreak of monkeypox took hold in Nigeria in 2017, Western governments and corporations failed to provide anything close to a sufficient number of vaccine doses.

Now that monkeypox is making its way through the West, Western countries–especially the United States–are employing the same racist, inequitable practices that have resulted in billions of people still having no access to coronavirus vaccines. Even though monkeypox is doing more damage in Africa and has been endemic in several African countries for decades, the West is now holding the vaccines it refused to manufacture enough of when monkeypox was seen as an African problem.

The US has placed an order for 2.5 million doses of the monkeypox vaccine called Jynnesos from its Danish developer, Bavarian Nordic. It can’t order more because Bavarian Nordic doesn’t yet have the capacity to manufacture much more than that. Including the stockpile on hand, the US will have 4.4 million doses of the vaccine early in 2023. Since vaccination requires two doses, the United States will be able to vaccinate about two million people by the end of the first quarter of 2023. There are 330 million people living in the United States. America is obviously unprepared for a massive monkeypox outbreak.

Given the lack of supply and America’s hoarding of the existing supply, the rest of the world will need to share enough doses to vaccinate 2.5 million people. Excluding the United States, there are still more than seven billion people.

Given what we have learned from coronavirus, we know most of the available vaccine will go to the wealthy, political elite, and some will go to try and stop clusters in Wester countries. There is little chance much if any of the massively insufficient vaccine supply will wind up in Africa, which has been left to fight the virus largely on its own.

Coronavirus has become something that will be destroying lives and killing people maybe forever because Western governments and corporations still put profits over lives–especially lives not lived in the West. Monkeypox has the potential to also become a never-ending problem for humanity if the greed and selfishness that has marked the West’s response to coronavirus defines its response to the new, ever-changing monkeypox.

Sadly, the West’s failure to help Africa battle monkeypox for decades may have already resulted in it being too late for the world to be spared from having to live with monkeypox. Now that the virus is mutating faster than ever, the world may also have to live with a virus that is more destructive than the one too many Africans have been living with for decades while the West once again showed its lack of humanity.

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