The regional director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) South-East Asia Region on Sunday called on member countries to strengthen surveillance and public health measures for monkeypox, with the disease being declared a public health emergency of international concern by the global health body.
Monkeypox has been spreading rapidly and to many countries that have not seen it before, which is a matter of great concern, said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh. “However, with cases concentrated among men who have sex with men, it is possible to curtail further spread of the disease with focused efforts among at-risk population,” she said.
Globally, over 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported from 75 countries. In the WHO South-East Asia Region, four cases have been reported, three from India and one from Thailand. The cases in India are among nationals who returned home from the Middle East, while in Thailand a Nigerian living in the country has been confirmed positive for monkeypox.
“Importantly, our focused efforts and measures should be sensitive, devoid of stigma or discrimination,” the WHO official said.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the decision to term monkeypox as a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) on Saturday, a day after he convened yet another meeting of the International Health Regulations (IHR) emergency committee to review the multi-country outbreak.
“Though the risk of monkeypox globally and in the region is moderate, the potential of its further international spread is real. Also, there are still many unknowns about the virus. We need to stay alert and prepared to roll out intense response to curtail further spread of monkeypox,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.
Since the start of the outbreak, WHO has been supporting countries assess risk, and initiate public health measures, while also building and facilitating testing capacities in the region. Engaging and protecting the affected communities; intensifying surveillance and public health measures; strengthening clinical management and infection prevention and control in hospitals and clinics; and accelerating research into the use of vaccines, therapeutics and other tools, are among the key measures that need to be scaled-up, she said.
Monkeypox virus is transmitted from infected animals to humans via indirect or direct contact. Human-to-human transmission can occur through direct contact with infectious skin or lesions, including face-to-face, skin-to-skin, and respiratory droplets.
In the current outbreak in countries and amongst the reported monkeypox cases, transmission appears to be occurring primarily through close physical contact, including sexual contact. Transmission can also occur from contaminated materials such as linens, bedding, electronics, clothing, that have infectious skin particles.