Monday July 25, 2022

WHO needs to clarify on monkeypox to avert panic

WHO needs to clarify on monkeypox to avert panic

The WHO declaration of monkeypox as a global emergency is a clumsy attempt to make up for its earlier tardiness.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declaration of monkeypox as global emergency should have been more carefully worded in the wake of the still-lingering global pandemic of COVID-19. This announcement could cause worldwide panic among people and governments, businesses, and other establishments. This must be avoided. It is indeed the case that monkeypox has now spilled over borders, and it is no more confined to central and west Africa where it had occurred so far, and it is now detected in 70 countries, including those in Europe and North America. While the origins of the disease lay as spreading from rodents to the fact that it is affecting males, and that too gays, should be spelt out clearly. The symptoms need to be explained too though WHO officials and other experts have said in passing that it is not fatal, and that though it could be painful because of lesions it causes, it is of short duration. It has also been identified as a sexually transmitted disease. But monkeypox would not require lockdowns and closure of public spaces, disruption of travel, which was the case with COVID-19. It also has to be emphasised that though monkeypox needs vaccination as an antidote, this has nothing to do with anti-COVID vaccines. To say that there would be a scramble for vaccines to protect people from monkeypox is a misleading statement that could trigger unnecessary panic in the public across the globe.

The WHO has been slow in declaring COVID-19 as a global emergency, and it has not been transparent enough in its inquiries into the origins of COVID-19 pandemic. And it seems that the WHO declaration of monkeypox as a global emergency is a clumsy attempt to make up for its earlier tardiness. It is essential that WHO makes a statement marking the difference between monkeypox, its spread, compared to COVID-19.

The people need an assurance that monkeypox is a different kind of disease. People would be under the impression that monkeypox could be a variant of COVID-19 like Delta and Omicron, coming as it does so soon after COVID-19. It can be said that by declaring monkeypox as a global emergency the WHO is trying to prevent the disease from turning into a global pandemic, and before it created havoc. But the world organization caught as it is in the coils of its own bureaucracy has a duty to peoples and governments to take necessary precautionary measures without going into a tizzy.

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported from in 74 countries since May. And the US agency just says that deaths have been reported only in Africa, mainly in Nigeria and Congo, and of course it does not give the number of deaths.

It is explained that the monkeypox is spreading to people infected wild animals like rodents. And WHO’s monkeypox expert, Dr Rosamund Lewis, says that 99 per cent of the cases outside Africa were in men, and 98 per cent of those 99 per cent men are those who have sex with men. These statistics need to put in context, and the WHO should reveal as to how long the monkeypox has been prevalent. Some experts have pointed out that the monkeypox did not warrant the WHO declaration as a global emergency, and the rich countries where it is occurring have the necessary funds to combat it.

We know that diseases have a social and political context, and there is plenty of room for vicious politicking as we have seen in the case of COVID-19, where there was an attempt to pinpoint China as the perpetrator, and later the unavailability of COVID-19 vaccines for the poorer countries.

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