Monkeypox on red alert
WHO has decided to raise the highest level of alert to curb the monkeypox outbreak, which primarily affects men who have sex with men, but it strongly warned Saturday, July 23, against stigmatizing the sick.
“I have decided to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) about the monkeypox outbreak,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing, noting that the risk worldwide is relatively moderate except in Europe, where it is high.
The WHO boss stressed that at the moment, “this outbreak is concentrated among men who have sex with men, and particularly those with multiple partners, which means it can be stopped with the right strategies in the right group.”
“It is essential that all countries work closely with communities of men who have sex with men” to provide assistance and information, the WHO boss insisted.
“These measures must protect the health, human rights and dignity of the affected community,” said Dr. Tedros, stressing that “stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus.
The discriminatory treatment and hostility inflicted on patients infected with the AIDS virus is present in all the minds of the affected communities and the WHO leaders, especially since it makes the patients hesitate to seek treatment.
Since early May, when it was first detected outside of endemic African countries, the disease has struck more than 16,836 people in 74 countries, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scorecard as of July 22.
Washington welcomed the WHO decision as “a call to action by the international community to stop the spread of this virus.”
“A coordinated, international response is essential to stop the spread of monkeypox, protect groups most at risk of contracting the disease, and control the epidemic,” Raj Panjabi, coordinator of the White House Office of Pandemics, said in a statement.
While health officials in the United Kingdom, one of the epicenters of the disease, have reported a decline in the rate of contagion, the number of cases is rising rapidly around the world.
A Nigerian man who had left Thailand after becoming the first monkeypox in that country was found Saturday, July 23, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and taken to a hospital, according to the Cambodian Ministry of Health.
Dr. Tedros explained that the expert committee was divided, with nine votes against a USPPI and six in favour. In the end, he was the one to decide.
“This is a call to action, but it is not the first,” said Mike Ryan, WHO Emergency Manager.
The USPPI designation is used in “severe, sudden, unusual or unexpected” situations. This is only the 7th time the WHO has used this alert level.
First detected in humans in 1970, monkeypox is less dangerous and contagious than its cousin human smallpox, eradicated in 1980.
In most cases, the patients are men who have sex with men, are relatively young, and live mainly in cities.
A study published Thursday, July 21 in the New England Journal of Medicine confirms that in 95% of recent cases, the disease was transmitted during sexual contact, and 98% of those affected were gay or bisexual men.
How did we go from a virus generally passed from animals to humans, with human transmission often limited to the family in West African countries, where it is endemic, to transmission in dozens of countries?
Taking advantage of a world that has opened up recently, the virus has travelled and managed to settle in a group where it can circulate more actively because of social habits (frequent meetings, sex with several partners, etc.), explained Rosamund Lewis, WHO’s a lead expert on monkeypox.
Stressing that the group mainly affected was generally very active in health matters and tended to report, diagnose and help each other, she believes the battle can be won.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said Friday, July 22, that it had approved the use of a human smallpox vaccine to extend its use against the spread of monkeypox. The vaccine is already used in several countries, including France.
Imvanex vaccine, from the Danish company Bavarian Nordic, has been approved in the EU since 2013 for smallpox prevention.
The WHO recommends vaccinating those most at risk and health care workers who may be exposed to the disease.