Fact-Check: Are US Funded Labs in Abuja, Zaria, Lagos, Responsible for the Outbreak of Monkeypox?
Claim: The chief of Russian Radiation, Chemical and Biological Protection Force, Igor Kirillov, claimed Washington controlled at least four laboratories in Nigeria which are responsible for outbreak of Monkeypox.
Full Text: Occasioned by the recent outbreak of Monkeypox virus in Nigeria, Russia has recently released a statement urging the World Health Organization (WHO) to as a matter of urgency investigates the activities of United State-funded laboratories operating in Nigeria. Igor Kirillov, who is the Chief of Russian Radiation, Chemical and Biological Protection Force specifically mentioned locations of those labs in Nigeria to include Abuja, Zaria and Lagos respectively. “Against the background of numerous cases of US violations of biosafety requirements and facts of negligent storage of pathogenic biomaterials, we call on the leadership of the World Health Organization to investigate the activities of US-funded Nigerian laboratories in Abuja, Zaria, Lagos and inform the world community about its results,” Kirillov said.
He recalled that according to the WHO report, the West African strain of the monkeypox pathogen came from Nigeria, another state in which the US has deployed its biological infrastructure. “According to available information, there are at least four Washington-controlled bio-laboratories operating in Nigeria.”
However, this claim is coming amidst surge in the number of cases of the diseases currently being experienced in Nigeria.
This development was confirmed by the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), saying that 66 cases of the Monkeypox virus have been reported since the start of the year out of which 21 cases were confirmed with one death recorded so far.
“Among the 21 cases reported in 2022 so far, there has been no evidence of any new or unusual transmission of the virus, nor changes in its clinical manifestation documented (including symptoms, profile and virulence),” NCDC said in a statement late on Sunday.
About monkey pox
Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research, hence the name ‘monkeypox.’ The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a period of intensified effort to eliminate smallpox. Since then monkeypox has been reported in humans in other central and western African countries.
Monkeypox is a viral zoonosis (a virus transmitted to humans from animals) with symptoms similar to those seen in the past in smallpox patients, although it is clinically less severe. With the eradication of smallpox in 1980 and subsequent cessation of smallpox vaccination, monkeypox has emerged as the most important orthopoxvirus for public health. Animal hosts include a range of rodents and non-human primates.
Since 1970, human cases of monkeypox have been reported in 11 African countries: Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone and South Sudan. The true burden of monkeypox is not known. For example, in 1996–97, an outbreak was reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with a lower case fatality ratio and a higher attack rate than usual. A concurrent outbreak of chickenpox (caused by the varicella virus, which is not an orthopoxvirus) and monkeypox was found, which could explain real or apparent changes in transmission dynamics in this case. Since 2017, Nigeria has experienced a large outbreak, with over 500 suspected cases and over 200 confirmed cases and a case fatality ratio of approximately 3%. Cases continue to be reported until today.
Monkeypox is usually a self-limited disease with the symptoms lasting from 2 to 4 weeks. Severe cases can occur. In recent times, the case fatality ratio has been around 3–6%. It is transmitted to humans through close contact with an infected person or animal, or with material contaminated with the virus.
The disease is endemic in the African countries of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria. But it has caused global alarm after more than 200 suspected and confirmed cases of the virus were detected in at least 19 countries since early May 2022, mostly in Europe and the Middle East, but no death was reported.
PRNigeria reached out to the Presidency for reactions to the allegations. The Spokesperson in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF), Mr. Willie Bassey said inquiries should be directed to the Ministry of Health and associated agencies such as the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) as it is not within the SGFs purview.
“We don’t handle those issues. The SGF’s specific mandate on health-related issues is COVID-19 and not monkeypox. So direct all inquiries to the health ministry, NAFDAC and NCDC,” he said.
An email inquiry sent to the World Health Organization (WHO) and NAFDAC is yet to receive feedback at the time of this report.
However, Director of Media and Publicity, Federal Ministry of Health, Ahmadu Chindaya confirmed to PRNigeria that the Honorable Minister of Health, Osaigie Ehanire, has set up a committee to investigate the matter.
“The committee have since swung into action to find out the veracity of the claim made by Russia, once we make our findings, the honourable minister will summon and address a press conference on the matter I can assure you and all journalist and health correspondents will be invited to cover it,” Chindaya told PRNigeria.
Meanwhile, reacting to Russia’s claim, the United States Diplomatic Mission to Nigeria has falsified it, asserting that it is a “fabrication,” and there are zero merits to the allegations.
“Such reports are pure fabrication. There is no merit to any allegations regarding the use of U.S.-assisted Nigerian laboratories in the spread of monkeypox. Furthermore, there are no “U.S.-controlled” laboratories in Nigeria,” it asserted in a press statement Monday.
It further alleged that the falsehoods is to detract from the work that the United States, in close coordination with Nigerian and multilateral partners are, “accomplish together on public health, including in disease surveillance, diagnosis, prevention, and control
“The collaborative work between Nigeria and the United States has provided opportunities for technical assistance in capacity building, equipment, commodities/consumables, and funding to the critical public health programs, hospitals and laboratories. All of this contributes greatly to the prevention and amelioration of global disease outbreaks,” the US Mission insists.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has said there are no laboratories in Nigeria where monkeypox is generated.
In a statement by its Director-General, Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, the NCDC said that the allegations by the Chief of Russian Radiation, Chemical and Biological Protection Force are not backed by any evidence.
“The designation and activities of Nigerian public health laboratories are known to the supervising authorities, most of the laboratories having been procured and set up by the Federal Government in all 36 States and FCT for diagnostic purposes, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and other infectious diseases.
“Some other laboratories are dedicated to the very successful HIV control program, managed by the Federal Government and her Partners, based on larger and longstanding bilateral and multilateral cooperation in public health, including prevention, diagnosis, surveillance, and control of diseases,” the NCDC said
It emphasised that as a rule, Nigeria welcomes scientific cooperation with all foreign countries, and has received material support from the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan
It says the country has also discussed vaccine production with Russia.
“Collaboration between Nigeria and the United States has provided opportunities for technical assistance, capacity building, provision of equipment and field hospitals at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and funds to support health programmes, like HIV/AIDS, malaria elimination,” it concluded.
Conclusion/Verdict: with allegations by the Russian Chief of Russian Radiation, Chemical and Biological Protection Force not backed by evidence, there’s insufficient proof to show that the United States funded laboratories are responsible for the outbreak of monkeypox in Nigeria.
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