Health Minister Joe Phaahla confirms mpox disease cases

Minister of Health Joe Phaahla. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

Minister of Health Joe Phaahla. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jun 12, 2024


South Africa has confirmed five cases of mpox, and one person from Gauteng has since died from the disease.

Two of these cases were confirmed in Gauteng and three in KwaZulu-Natal. Mpox disease, formerly known as monkey pox has been ongoing since 2022.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the death that occurred is one of the two cases reported in Gauteng.

Briefing the media on Wednesday, Phaahla said the patient died on June 10 in Tembisa Hospital.

He said all cases were men aged between 30-39 without travel history to the countries currently experiencing an outbreak, which suggests there is local transmission of this infectious disease in the country.

Phaahla said all five cases were classified severe cases as per the WHO definition, requiring hospitalisation.

“The cases have comorbidities and have been identified as key populations, men who have sex with men (MSM). Thus, the department is reaching out to organisations working on HIV programmes and with key populations in addition to other stakeholders to implement targeted communication to intensify awareness about the outbreak and local transmission of the disease.

“One patient has been discharged, one discharged for home isolation, and follow-ups being made. Two cases are still in hospital,” said Phaahla..

Regarding the case notified in May 8, in Gauteng, Phaahla said seven contacts have been followed up for 21 days, and none showed any signs and symptoms of mpox.

Regarding the case notified on June 7, the line list of identified contacts was developed. They will be monitored for symptoms for 21 days. Attempts will be made to identify further contacts.

“The provinces have been notifying all the cases that meet the case definition of a suspected mpox case in the Notifiable Medical Condition System. Meanwhile, the Outbreak Response Team composed of experts from the department, provinces, NICD (National Institute for Communicable Diseases), WHO (World Health Organization) and other stakeholders in the health sector have embarked on contact tracing and case finding in the affected provinces,” Phaahla said.

He said currently there is no registered treatment for mpox in South Africa. However, 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 Sahpra (South African Health Products Regulatory Authority) approval on compassionate use basis for the five known patients with severe disease.

“Three of the five cases had access to tecovirimat treatment as advocated by the NICD. The drug was obtained via Section 21 and the Sahpra approval process and donated by the WHO. Sahpra has since approved a request for a small stockpile of tecovirimat which the WHO will support as a donation.

“Our intention is to obtain a stockpile of tecovirimat treatment for rapid deployment in case the current situation leads to a wider outbreak. The stock will be donated by the World Health Organization,” he said.

Phaahla said 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 who have stockpiles that exceed their needs and from GAVI." These vaccines will be stored and distributed from our provincial depots,” said Phaahla.

He further said additional intervention is being considered, as National Advisory Group for Immunisation (NAGI) Technical Working Group for Mpox vaccines has been appointed and is considering mpox vaccine for both pre and post-exposure administration for high-risk groups, including but not limited to sex workers, men-who-have-sex-with-men, healthcare workers and laboratory workers.

“We can disrupt the local transmission by supporting those diagnosed with this disease to take their treatment to prevent infecting others. We can prevent avoidable deaths by cooperating with health officials when they conduct contact tracing and case finding.

“One death is too many, especially from a preventable and manageable disease like mpox,” Phaahla said.