Mpox (previously known as monkeypox) was first ‘discovered’ in 1958, though it’s only in the past year that it’s gained significant international public attention. The disease can have very visible symptoms, with painful lesions that spread all over the body in more severe cases.

In 2022, there were almost 84,000 cases of mpox in 103 new countries, and it was declared a public health emergency of international concern. But several years before this, following clusters of cases in 2017, Nigerian scientists and public health officials had been sounding the alarm about mpox, the need to understand its epidemiology better, and the need for better public health strategies.

Mpox is considered endemic in Nigeria, but we still do not know a lot about it. In Nigeria, a country leading in public health approaches to respond to infectious diseases, there are still many uncertainties about patterns of disease and transmission. We’re also not sure how mpox has changed over the years: it used to be confined to rural areas, with a few cases here and there, typically connected to an animal source. But since 2017, we’ve seen it spread more widely, including from human to human and in urban areas.

From October 2022 to February 2023, a team of researchers carried out studies in southwest Nigeria to explore the question: What is the story of mpox in the country? We wanted to find out what makes people vulnerable to the disease, and what aspects of the urban environment make it easier for mpox to spread. We wanted to look into pathways to care and treatment by people who have been affected. We also looked into the public health response to the disease in the country, to learn from the work of the Nigerian CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) and the Ministry of Health.

As part of our research, we travelled to parts of Lagos, Ogun, and Oyo states that had been identified as having had a number of confirmed mpox cases in the last year. We conducted interviews with residents who had experienced mpox symptoms and those who treat them (from drug shop owners to herbalists and health workers).

This photo story explores how mpox is felt and understood by different people – including those with symptoms, the wider community and healthcare workers. It gives a snapshot of some of the themes from our research, though it’s not the whole story.