Fri. Aug 19th, 2022

Monkeypox cases have tripled in Europe in the past two weeks, the World Health Organization (WHO) says, as it urges countries in the region to do more to ensure the previously rare disease does not become entrenched on the continent.

In Africa, health authorities said they were treating the expanding outbreak as an emergency, calling on rich countries to share limited supplies of vaccines to avoid equity problems seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

WHO Europe chief Hans Kluge said on Friday (local time) that increased efforts were needed despite the UN health agency’s decision last week that the escalating outbreak did not yet warrant being declared a global health emergency.

“Urgent and coordinated action is imperative if we are to turn a corner in the race to reverse the ongoing spread of this disease,” Dr Kluge said.

To date, more than 5,000 monkeypox cases have been reported from 51 countries worldwide that do not normally report the disease, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr Kluge said the number of infections in Europe represented about 90 per cent of the global total, with 31 countries in the WHO’s European region having identified cases.

Scramble for vaccines sees Africa left behind

A person looks at a computer screen showing the monkeypox vaccine.
Supplies of the Bavarian Nordic made vaccine are ‘extremely limited’. (Reuters: Lukas Barth)

Dr Kluge also said the procurement of vaccines “must apply the principles of equity”.

The main vaccine being used against monkeypox was originally developed for smallpox and the European Medicines Agency said this week it was beginning to evaluate whether it should be authorized for monkeypox.

The WHO has said supplies of the vaccine, made by Bavarian Nordic, were extremely limited.

Countries including the UK and Germany have already started vaccinating people at high risk of monkeypox; the UK recently widened its immunization program to mostly gay and bisexual men who have multiple sexual partners and are thought to be most vulnerable.

Until May, monkeypox had never been known to cause large outbreaks beyond parts of central and west Africa, where it had been infecting people for decades, was endemic in several countries and mostly caused limited outbreaks when it jumped to people from infected wild animals.

To date, there have been about 1,800 suspected monkeypox cases in Africa, including more than 70 deaths, but only 109 have been lab-confirmed.

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