Home Opinion Monkeypox, Gary Hart and the monkey business; By Osmund Agbo

Monkeypox, Gary Hart and the monkey business; By Osmund Agbo

Gary Hart with Donna Rice

Gary Hart is an American politician, diplomat, and lawyer who represented the state of Colorado in the United States Senate from 1975 to 1987. He came into national prominence in the way he ran the very long-shot but highly successful campaign of Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. Although McGovern was roundly defeated by Richard Nixon, taking only one state and the District of Columbia, no one blamed this on Hart who came to be regarded as a rising star in the Democratic Party. Two years later, he won a Colorado Senate seat in the Democratic landslide of 1974.

Gary first ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 but lost out to Walter Mondale who served as Jimmy Carter’s Vice President. He nevertheless established himself as a serious candidate seen as articulate, offered fresh ideas, attractive and at the time, had age heavily on his side.

When in 1986, he declined to run for re-election to the Senate, it was to devote more time to winning the Democratic nomination for President in 1988. Gary quickly earned his spot as a clear front-runner and polls upon polls showed him far ahead of his closest rival with more than 20 points. But that was before he got entangled in the career-ending Monkey Business and his candidacy turned into vapour. Gary Hart was that guy who couldn’t keep his pants up. 

After he formally announced his candidacy on 13 April 1987, rumours started making the rounds that he was involved in a slew of extra-marital affairs. As expected, the candidate strongly denied those allegations and even dared the press to follow him around. He joked that they would only get bored. But undeterred, they took him on his offer anyway. One beautiful evening in Miami, Florida, Senator Hart was photographed with an attractive blonde called Donna Rice, balanced flirtatiously on his laps, aboard an 83-foot luxury yacht named, Monkey Business. Few days later, he announced his withdrawal from the presidential race. 

Many years after Gary Hart’s meteoric rise and fall, there seems to be an unhealthy even if superstitious, relationship between sex and this one creature that often causes men to fall from grace. Today, the world is under the threat of another pandemic but this time, it’s not Covid-19 or its omicron variant. It’s the Monkeypox. Monkey has proven not to be man’s best friend.

Monkeypox is caused by a virus similar to smallpox, and many outbreaks were thought to have started with human contact with infected animals in western and Central Africa often near tropical rainforests. The first human case, we were told, was identified in a nine-year-old boy in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the WHO, eleven African countries have so far reported cases since 1970 and it is believed to be endemic in those areas. What is more? Monkeypox, however, is now transmitting globally and has also been reported in Europe and America, the latter of which is now planning an aggressive nation-wide vaccination campaign against the virus. 

One report stated that from September 2017 to the end of April 2022, Nigeria reported a total of 558 suspected cases with 231 (41.4%) confirmed and from the beginning of January till end of April 46 suspected cases were reported with 15 confirmed from 7 states. No death has thus far been recorded this year. But this number may not tell the whole story because disease surveillance in Nigeria is poor and many of the monkeypox cases in the rural areas are missed.

Nigeria also lacks a comprehensive national policy to tackle the now spreading menace other than what the Nigerian Center for Disease Control (NCDC) talked about activating Monkeypox Emergency Operation Center in its press release dated May 31, 2022.

Most cases present with lesions on the genitalia or peri-genital area, indicating that transmission is likely sexual, seen mostly in men who have sex with men , though the virus can also spread via body fluids, skin contact and respiratory droplets. 

Monkeypox often causes several days of flu-like symptoms, followed by a skin rash that often appears harmless and can be seen in locations such as inside the anus, places that are so easy to miss. Nevertheless, the lesions are highly contagious and have been known to even contaminate surfaces or materials such as towels which makes it easy to spread from one person to another. 

Controlling epidemics of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD’s) depends on prompt and accurate diagnosis, followed by effective treatment of infected people and their contacts. However, Nigeria and many other African countries bedeviled by poor resource management are often caught flat-footed. Government funding for diagnosis and treatment is poor. Disease surveillance and contact tracing rarely exist.

It’s time to get serious with offering safe sexual health services in both private and public health facilities. Since sex is increasingly being practised at a much younger age these days, it’s time to demystify it so that teachers in schools and faith leaders in religious group could offer help in educating their subjects. Such will not only stem the tide of monkeypox outbreaks but will tackle increasing incidence of other STDs.

It may be a tad comforting from the prediction that Monkeypox is unlikely to spread as fast or pose public health challenges in the order of magnitude seen with Covid-19. Nevertheless, an important lesson of the past decade of Covid-19, Ebola and Zika epidemics is that unchecked transmission means the entire population is at risk.

The very recent Covid-19 pandemic, the effect of which continues to reverberate all over the world, should serve as a cautionary tale to African governments who remain at best reactionary in their approach to diseases of public health importance. If we decide not to plan, we are by default, planning to fail. And for those of us who can’t seem to keep our pants up and are thriving in this Monkey Business, Monkeypox will make you pay. Maybe not like Mr. Hart but you will pay nonetheless.

Dr. Agbo, a Public Affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: [email protected]

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