The monkeypox virus spread can be curtailed with the right strategies in the right groups, without creating stigma and discrimination, said Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director, World Health Organisation (WHO) South-East Asia adding that the risk of monkeypox in WHO South-East Asia Region is currently assessed as moderate.
“However, in view of the complexities and uncertainties associated with this multi-country public health event, WHO announced the ongoing monkeypox transmission as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), the highest level of global public health alert for countries to implement a coordinated response, with the goals of stopping human-to-human transmission and protecting the vulnerable groups,’’ Dr. Poonam cautioned.
Stating that the testing capacities for monkeypox globally, and in the region are limited, but are being strengthened Dr. Poonam Singh said that India’s National Institute of Virology, Pune, is one of the four referral laboratories for countries across WHO South-East Asia region. India has identified a network of laboratories for the diagnosis of monkeypox.
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“Also here the experience of India and the region in strengthening laboratory diagnosis for COVID-19 will be useful. WHO is supporting countries with technical assistance and procurement of diagnostic assays that are high in demand and low in supplies globally,’’ Dr. Poonam said.
Speaking about the extensive travel that the world has opened up to with the COVID-related travel restrictions, Dr. Poonam admitted that South East Asia, having very high human density, adds to the unique challenges of transmissibility.
“For countries with recently imported cases of monkeypox, WHO recommends implementing a coordinated response to stop human-to-human transmission of monkeypox virus, prioritizing communities at high risk of exposure. Targeted risk communication and community engagement, case detection, supported isolation of cases and treatment and contact tracing, are among the key recommendations,’’ Dr. Poonam added.
Highlighting how during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, countries have built, strengthened, and demonstrated capacities to overcome health emergencies she said that countries are now better prepared to respond to health emergencies.
Dr. Poonam Singh further said that from what we know so far – Monkeypox is self-limiting, mortality has remained low, and the cases concentrated mostly among men who have sex with men.
Detecting early and isolating cases for the duration of the infectious period; minimizing risk of onward transmission during the infectious stage; conducting contact tracing among individuals in contact with anyone who may be a suspected, probable, or confirmed case of Monkeypox; are critical measures for preventing virus spread, Dr. Poonam explained.
“Intensifying surveillance, strengthening laboratory capacity and genomic sequencing capacity are important for coordinated response to monkeypox,’’ Dr. Poonam noted.