WHO urged to take more decisive action on monkeypox

Infectious disease experts are urging faster action from global health authorities to contain the growing monkeypox outbreak.

Since the UK first reported a confirmed monkeypox case on 7 May, nearly 200 cases have been reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in countries far from the states where the virus is endemic.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has put the number of such cases at 219.

Endemic in a number of west and central African nations, monkeypox cases have suddenly been detected in more than 20 other countries around the world, including the US, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and nearly a dozen EU countries.

The Spanish health ministry said on Friday that 98 cases had been confirmed there so far, while the UK currently counts 90 verified infections.

Portugal has meanwhile registered 74 confirmed cases, health authorities said on Friday, adding that all the occurrences are in men, mainly aged below 40.

Argentina confirmed the first two cases of monkeypox in Latin America on Friday.

Now infectious disease experts are arguing that governments and the WHO should not repeat the early missteps of the COVID-19 pandemic that delayed the detection of cases, helping the virus spread.

While monkeypox is not as transmissible or dangerous as COVID, these scientists say, there needs to be clearer guidance on how a person infected with monkeypox should isolate, more explicit advice on how to protect people who are at risk, and improved testing and contact tracing.

Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, wrote on Twitter that monkeypox was different to SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus, but “we are making some of the same mistakes with regard to responding decisively with the tools at hand.”

On Friday, the WHO reiterated that the monkeypox virus is containable with measures including the quick detection and isolation of cases and contact tracing.

People who are infected – and in some cases their close contacts – are advised to isolate for 21 days, but it is not clear to what extent people would adhere to such a long time away from work or other commitments. 

The lab capacity to test for monkeypox is also not yet widely established, according to one senior virologist, meaning rapid diagnosis can be difficult.

Mass vaccination is not currently considered necessary but some countries, including Britain and France, are offering vaccines to healthcare workers and close contacts.

Other experts say the current response is proportionate and that deeming monkeypox a global health emergency and declaring a PHEIC would be inappropriate at this stage.

“This is reserved for threats with the highest level of risk based on infectivity, severity and international risk of escalation,” said Dale Fisher, chair of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) and a professor of medicine in Singapore. 

On Friday, the WHO reiterated that the monkeypox virus is containable with measures including the quick detection and isolation of cases and contact tracing.

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