Disappointing monkeypox response in Mexico and Brazil draws criticism

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Francisco’s injuries began after returning from California to Mexico City in late June: First, two spots on his buttocks. Then, a week later, wounds 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 had one of at least 59 monkeypox infections confirmed in Mexico since May, which experts say may underestimate the true number.

Protesters hold up signs reading "Release vaccines" and "I'm Moni, I demand my vaccine" in front of the building of the Secretary of Health, in Mexico City, Mexico, Mexico, on July 26, 2022.

Protesters hold signs reading ‘Free the vaccines’ and ‘I am Moni, I demand my vaccine’ in front of the Health Secretary’s building, in Mexico City, Mexico, July 26, 2022.
(REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)

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 given to monkeypox,” said Mexico City sexual health specialist Dr. Sergio Montalvo.


Doctors like Montalvo fear authorities have not learned lessons from the COVID-19 pandemicthat 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.

“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’s nor Brazil’s health ministries responded to multiple interview requests.

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

An activist putting up posters during a protest against Mexico's handling of the monkeypox virus, in front of the Health Secretary building, in Mexico City, Mexico, Mexico, July 26, 2022.

An activist putting up posters during a protest against Mexico’s handling of the monkeypox virus, in front of the Health Secretary building, in Mexico City, Mexico, Mexico, July 26, 2022.
(REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)

“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, the police won’t 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, saying four labs were 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.”