Poonam Khetrapal Singh
New Delhi ●
Tue 2 Aug 2022
The monkeypox outbreak in several countries represents a public health emergency of international concern, the highest level of global public health alert. From January to July 2022, more than 19,000 probable and laboratory-confirmed cases of monkeypox have been reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) in at least 78 countries across six WHO regions, including the region of Southeast Asia.
The cases primarily, but not exclusively, involved men who have sex with men. However, anyone in close contact with an infectious person is at risk. As we learn more, additional cases may be identified in the wider community.
Monkeypox can cause a range of signs and symptoms, including fever, rash and swollen lymph nodes, which can easily be confused with symptoms of other illnesses, such as chickenpox, measles and bacterial skin infections. In most cases, the symptoms disappear within a few weeks. However, in some cases, especially in newborns, children, and people with underlying immune deficiencies, the infection can lead to medical complications and even death. Since January, five deaths from monkeypox have been reported to WHO.
If you think you have monkeypox, you can protect others by seeing a doctor and isolating yourself from others until you have been evaluated and tested. Until more is known about sexual fluid transmission, people who have had probable or confirmed monkeypox should use condoms during sexual contact for 12 weeks after recovery.
Although the risk of monkeypox globally and in the region is moderate, the potential for international spread is real. All countries in the region must therefore strengthen their preparedness and response capacities, building on a series of priority actions, while WHO continues to coordinate and support global research and equitable access to key health tools such as vaccines and treatments, based on public health risks and needs. .
First, step up surveillance, with a focus on sensitizing and training health workers and ensuring access to reliable, affordable and accurate diagnostic tests. Health workers should immediately report suspected cases to local or national public health authorities, collect and ship samples for laboratory testing, and initiate contact tracing while protecting people’s human rights, privacy, and dignity. concerned and their contacts.
IHR National Focal Points should report all probable and confirmed cases to WHO using the minimum data set contained in the WHO Case Notification Form.
Second, strengthen risk communication and community engagement, building trust and awareness, and facilitating timely access to diagnosis and care. Health officials should identify and leverage existing community groups, networks, and services to share reliable, evidence-based information with populations at high risk of infection. They should initiate systematic social listening to emerging perceptions, concerns and misinformation that could impede response actions, while consulting and engaging affected communities and other stakeholders to promote care-seeking behavior.
Third, step up support for clinical management and infection prevention and control. Health officials and facility administrators should establish recommended clinical care pathways and protocols for the screening, triage, isolation, testing, and clinical evaluation of suspected cases. They should ensure that all healthcare and laboratory workers have adequate access to appropriate personal protective equipment, on which such workers should be properly trained. Collection and reporting of clinical outcomes should be harmonized using the WHO Global Clinical Platform for Monkeypox.
Together, we must actively address stigma and discrimination as a central part of the response. Stigma and discrimination violate human rights. They exacerbate social inequalities and worsen health inequalities. At the same time, stigma and discrimination directly undermine disease control.
People who experience stigma may be less likely to report symptoms and seek care due to fear of rejection, social isolation, or the impact of discrimination on family and friends. To meet this challenge, we must act together in solidarity and support the people and groups affected as well as those who care for them.
With the right strategies, this multi-country epidemic can be stopped – globally and in the region.
To achieve this goal, WHO will continue to support all countries in the region, ensuring a coordinated response that actively combats stigma and protects vulnerable people.
The author is Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region.