SA in discussions to secure Mpox vaccines – 5 cases confirmed

Painful blisters are among the symptoms of Mpox.

Painful blisters are among the symptoms of Mpox.

Published Jun 13, 2024


Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla on Wednesday said South Africa is in talks with World Health Organization’s (WHO) member countries and international vaccine distribution organisation Gavi to get Mpox vaccines to high risk groups across the country.

South Africa is one of the countries currently experiencing an Mpox outbreak, with a total of 5 laboratory-confirmed cases.

Two cases, one of which resulted in death, were confirmed in Gauteng and three in the eThekwini municipality.

All patients are men aged between 30 and 39 years without any history of travel to the countries currently experiencing an outbreak.

Mpox is identified by a painful rash or skin eruptions, enlarged lymph nodes and fever.

Phaahla said the outbreak is characterised by sustained human-to-human transmission via direct skin-to-skin and sexual contact and that people living with HIV are disproportionately affected.

“As far as the vaccine is concerned, options are being considered as to which population groups should be targeted.

South Africa is trying to source vaccines from WHO member countries that have stockpiles that exceed their needs as well as from Gavi,” said Phaahla.

He said the vaccines will be donated to South Africa.

“I think in a matter of days or weeks this should materialise ... the negotiations are ongoing and we do have the go-ahead of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) to access those vaccines.”

Phaahla advised that while there is no registered treatment for mpox in the country, the WHO recommends the use of tecovirimat (known as TPOXX) for treatment of severe cases, such as in individuals with a CD4 count of less than 350.

“The department has obtained tecovirimat via Section 21 Saphra approval on a compassionate use basis for the known patients with severe disease,” he said.

Local transmission can be disrupted by supporting those diagnosed with the disease to take their treatment to prevent infecting others, he said.

“We can prevent avoidable deaths by co-operating with health officials when they conduct contact tracing and case finding. One death is one too many, especially from a preventable and manageable disease like Mpox,” he said.

Local WHO office director, Dr Fabian Ndenzako, said they are working closely with the ministry team and partners to make sure they get the drugs available to the patients as soon as possible.

“As we speak, 10 doses have been packed just waiting shipment from Geneva to here,” he said, adding that they are working on more doses to be made available as soon as they are required.

Dr Joseph Wamala, technical expert from the WHO local office, said vaccines are one of the tools being used to ensure that within the next two years mpox is eliminated.

Wamala said countries which have stockpiled vaccines beyond their country’s needs may have vaccines that will expire.

“There is also the option of bulk procurement from the manufacturer and the time of those vaccines being made available depends on how soon funding can be made available from the Treasury.”

An outbreak is defined as at least two cases and South Africa has five, he said.

“All these cases have no history of international travel so that really speaks to transmission that has probably not been picked up. So even when we have five cases, that is already a sign that we will potentially have a very big outbreak on our hands,” warned Wamala.

He said it has not been easy for countries to identify the contacts of Mpox patients.

Phaahla said 38 contacts were identified in KZN and one of the cases indicated to have had sexual contact with multiple partners, including males and females. Seven contacts were traced in one case in Gauteng.

“It’s very important that we all remain vigilant. We should be aware of the symptoms and report promptly to the clinics for check ups.

“The healthcare workers are professional and trained to maintain confidentiality of all the information shared,” Wamala said.

He said treatment works better for severe cases when given early in the course of the illness.

The Mercury