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By Cheryl Kahla

Content Strategist

WATCH: No, the monkeypox outbreak wasn’t planned – Here’s why

While the risk of being exposed to monkeypox is low, being exposed to fake news is considerably higher.

Conspiracy theorists are sharing a photo of a virtual tabletop exercise as alleged proof that this recent monkeypox outbreak was planned by a non-profit organisation.

Monkeypox hoax

Conspiracy theorists believe the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) planned the outbreak in May 2022, and used a tabletop exercise performed by NTI as ‘proof’.

France24’s Truth or Fake segment discussed the alleged monkeypox hoax circulating on social media.

Watch: Debunking false claims

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The NTI ran a virtual exercise on monkeypox, but it took place on 21 March 2021 and the parameters of the exercise were based on a fictional country, Brinia.

The date chosen for the fictional outbreak was 5 June 2022 – leading to conspiracy theorists now believing the simulation was real and planned all along.

Fictional outbreaks in virtual exercises such as these are often used by research centres to prepare for possible outbreaks and gather data.


World ‘woefully unprepared’

Following the uproar on social media, Jaime Yassif – vice president of Global Biological Policy and Programs at NTI – said the key takeaway of the exercise was how “woefully unprepared the world” really is to deal with a monkeypox outbreak.

“It’s a fact that the world is woefully unprepared to guard against future pandemics, and we need to take urgent action to address this vulnerability.”

She said there was “no reason to believe that the current monkeypox outbreak involves an engineered virus, as we have not seen any compelling evidence that would support such a claim”.

The NTI report – dated November 2021 – can be read here.

Monkeypox in South Africa?

Meanwhile in South Africa, the National Institute For Communicable Diseases (NICD) is working with healthcare workers on surveillance measures to detect monkeypox.

Dr Jacqueline Weyer, from the Centre for Emerging Zoonotic and Parasitic Diseases, said the institute had already taken steps as the international outbreak developed.  

ALSO READ: NICD working with healthcare workers to detect Monkeypox

She said measures have been put in place regarding surveillance, case investigation and contact tracing.

“We are increasing vigilance and awareness in healthcare workers. So we are equipping them with tools to help them to identify these cases and then to work with all the different roles players within the public health sphere to deal with any cases if we have those,” Weyer said.

Additional reporting by Thapelo Lekabe.

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