Governments, health partners and civil society need to act together with urgency to keep monkeypox at bay in the European region, Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional director for Europe, said here Wednesday.
“Europe remains the epicenter of this escalating outbreak, with 25 countries reporting more than 1,500 cases, or 85 percent of the global total,” he said, stressing that the magnitude of the outbreak posed a real risk.
“The longer the virus circulates, the further it spreads and the stronger the disease’s foothold in non-endemic countries.”
According to Kluge, monkeypox has been endemic in parts of western and central Africa for decades and has been neglected by the rest of the world.
“We have seen yet again how a challenge in one part of the world can so easily and quickly be a challenge for all of us and how we must all work together to ensure a coordinated response that is fair to one and all.”
Kluge also stressed the importance of identifying and supporting close contacts of cases, as well as self-monitoring for 21 days for any early signs of monkeypox, such as fever.
“Once identified, patients with suspected or confirmed monkeypox should be isolated until their symptoms are fully resolved, with the necessary infection control measures and the support they need to see them through to recovery.”
Despite the fact that the majority of reported patients in Europe have been men who have sex with men, Kluge stressed that the monkeypox virus is not associated with any specific group.
“Stigmatizing certain populations undermines the public health response as we have seen time and again in contexts as diverse as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and COVID-19.”
Kluge also slammed any future move by countries in the West to stockpile what are currently limited supplies of monkeypox vaccines, calling this a “me first approach” that could only have negative global consequences and asking whether the world has “truly learned lessons” from COVID-19.
Cooperation, the ability to generate and share critical knowledge across borders, communities and population groups remains “our best tool” for combating the monkeypox virus, he said, calling for “genuine and unselfish” regional collaboration.
The WHO said on Tuesday that next week it will convene its Emergency Committee to advise on whether the current spread of monkeypox in non-endemic countries constitutes an international public health emergency.