WHO dismisses “fake” advisory calling on ban of second-hand clothes to limit monkeypox infections

·3 min read

An advisory on monkeypox purportedly released by the World Health Organization (WHO) recommending a ban on second-hand clothes from Europe, USA and Asia has been shared on multiple social media platforms in Kenya. The claim is false; the letter, which has various errors, was dismissed by the WHO as "fake".

This Facebook post, which has since been deleted, shared the letter purportedly signed by a WHO representative to Kenya warning against the shipment of garments and items outside Europe, the USA and Asia so as to limit monkeypox infections.

"We further recommend that countries receiving donated items of clothing from affected regions temporarily halt distribution of these items until their origin and circumstances surrounding their donation, purchase and shipment can be established,” the letter reads in part.

The purported advisory, dated June 8 and published on Facebook two days later, proposed the destruction of donated and relief clothing items sourced from the listed regions within 72 hours.

A screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken on June 16, 2022

A day after the letter began circulating online, Gazeti Daily, a tabloid newspaper with no online presence and a reputation for printing inaccurate or unverifiable articles, published a report headlined: “Mitumbas from Europe may contain Monkeypox”.

A screenshot of the false Facebook post sharing the tabloid’s front page, taken on June 16, 2022

“Mitumba” is the Swahili word for bales or bundles and refers to second-hand clothes because they arrive and are sold to retailers this way.

Below the headline was an image of a child covered in lesions as well as a cutout of the purported health advisory.

The document, however, is fabricated.

Not a WHO advisory

At first glance, the letter contains various mistakes.

Firstly, the word monkeypox is written as separate words – “monkey” and “pox” – inconsistent with how WHO spells the virus in official documents (see here and here).

Secondly, the letter is purportedly signed by “Dr Rudi Eggers” in his capacity as “WHO Representative to Kenya”. Eggers, however, is not the current office holder —, according to his LinkedIn profile, he has not occupied the position since August 2021.

The incumbent is Dr Abdourahmane Diallo, whose appointment was announced on April 4, 2022.

WHO, itself, dismissed the advisory, urging the public to “ignore it”.

“There's a fake letter in circulation on various platforms about Monkeypox. Ignore it,” WHO said in a tweet.

Since May 13, 2022, monkeypox cases have been reported in Europe. AFP Fact Check has debunked several claims here, here and here.

According to WHO, the virus is transmitted from one person to another through contact with bodily fluids, lesions on the skin or internal mucosal surfaces, such as in the mouth or throat, respiratory droplets and contaminated objects such as clothing.

Mitumba trade

The resale of imported, second-hand clothing in Kenya has become the subject of heated political debate after presidential candidate Raila Odinga made a controversial remark during a campaign speech. (see here and here).

While calling for investment in the local textile industry, he said the imported garments had been “worn by dead people”.

With a huge part of Kenya’s population dependent on the informal trade, politicians have always been cautious not to call for the total ban of second-hand clothes, like neighbouring Rwanda did in 2018.

Kenya is one of the largest importers of second-hand clothes in Sub-Saharan Africa and a market report indicates that the industry contributes at least one billion Kenyan shillings ( about $8 million) to the economy each month.

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