The World Health Organisation Country Office for India has sought the assistance of India’s — ICMR-National Institute of Virology, Pune, — help to test suspected cases of monkeypox for the south-east Asia region (SEAR) member-states.
The SEAR accounts for one-quarter of the world’s population, 40% of the global poor and already bears approximately 30% of the overall global disease burden.
The request comes at a time when more than 10 countries, where monkeypox is not endemic, have reported outbreaks of the viral disease, with more than 100 confirmed or suspected infections, mostly in Europe.
ICMR- NIV, Pune detected the first SARS-CoV-2 case in the country and subsequently isolated the virus, including the variants of concern.
Its Director Priya Abraham said: “This is not the first time India is extending its laboratory and diagnostic support to countries of this region. We have done it during COVID also. For monkeypox testing, we have agreed in principle to help out and will await more formal requests from individual countries”.
Stating that India has not yet reported a case of monkeypox, she said “recent monkeypox outbreaks are unusual because they are occurring in countries where the virus has not been endemic”.
“For now we are adopting a wait-and-watch policy. We have two of our Institute’s laboratory groups ready to do the testing. We are equipped and prepared.”
Dr. Abraham added that monkeypox is not as transmissible as SARS-CoV-2 and the present outbreak gives no cause for undue panic. Transmission between humans takes place through close contact with respiratory secretions (large droplets), skin lesions, or recently contaminated objects. Hence, health care workers, members of households, and other close contacts of active cases of monkeypox are at increased risk, she said.
Endemic in Africa
Monkeypox virus was first discovered in 1958 and is known to be endemic in 12 countries in Africa, four of which have reported cases to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the period from December 15, 2021 to May 1, 2022.
FIND, a global alliance for diagnostics, in its communication, explained that the emergence of monkeypox underlines the need for sustained global surveillance systems that can detect emerging viruses in every country in the world.
“The focus on diagnostics for COVID-19 has boosted testing and surveillance capacity worldwide that can be useful for monkeypox, but dramatic inequities remain in low- and middle-income countries,” it said. It added that the disease is not easily contracted, and in most cases is not life-threatening.