Monkeypox infections continue to rise globally, with more than 35,000 cases across 92 countries and territories, and 12 deaths, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Wednesday.
“Almost 7,500 cases were reported last week, a 20 per cent increase over the previous week, which was also 20 per cent more than the week before,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking during his regular press briefing from Geneva.
“The primary focus for all countries must be to ensure they are ready for #monkeypox & stop transmission using effective tools, incl. enhanced disease surveillance, careful contact tracing, tailored risk communication & community engagement, & risk reduction measures”-@DrTedros
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) August 17, 2022
The majority of cases are being reported from Europe and the Americas, and mostly among men who have sex with men.
“The primary focus for all countries must be to ensure they are ready for monkeypox, and to stop transmission using effective public health tools, including enhanced disease surveillance, careful contact tracing, tailored risk communication and community engagement, and risk reduction measures,” said Tedros.
Currently, global supplies of Monkeypox vaccines are limited, as is data about their effectiveness. WHO is in contact with manufacturers, and with countries and organizations willing to share vaccine doses.
“We remain concerned that the inequitable access to vaccines we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic will be repeated, and that the poorest will continue to be left behind,” said Tedros.
COVID deaths ‘completely unacceptable’
COVID-19 deaths have also increased over the last four weeks, rising by 35 per cent, with 15,000 lives lost in the past week alone.
“Fifteen thousand deaths a week is completely unacceptable, when we have all the tools to prevent infections and save lives,” Tedros remarked.
Although everyone might be tired of COVID-19, “the virus is not tired of us,” he said.
Omicron remains the dominant variant, with the BA.5 sub-variant accounting for more than 90 per cent of genome sequences shared in the last month.
Tedros reported that it is becoming harder to understand how the virus might be changing.
The number of sequences shared per week has fallen by 90 per cent since the beginning of the year, and the number of countries sharing sequences has also dropped by 75 per cent.
He warned that with colder weather approaching in the northern hemisphere, and people spending more time indoors, the risk for more intense transmissions will only increase.
“But none of us is helpless – please get vaccinated if you are not, and if you need a booster, get one,” he advised, in addition to measures such as wearing a mask and avoiding crowds, especially indoors.
“There is a lot of talk about learning to live with this virus. But we cannot live with 15,000 deaths a week”.
Horn of Africa crisis
Tedros also highlighted the ongoing crisis in the Horn of Africa, where millions are facing starvation and disease due to drought, conflict, climate change and rising prices for food, fuel and fertilizer.
WHO has provided more than $16 million from an emergency fund to meet the needs, but more support is required.
The agency is appealing for $123.7 million which will be used to prevent and control outbreaks, treat malnutrition, and provide essential health services as well as medicines.
Appeal for Tigray
Tedros said the drought is compounding the “man-made catastrophe” in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopian, where war has raged for nearly two years.
Some six million people are under siege by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, he said, “sealed off from the outside world, with no telecommunications, no banking services and very limited electricity and fuel.”
As a result, they are facing multiple outbreaks of malaria, anthrax, cholera, diarrhea and more.
“This unimaginable cruelty must end. The only solution is peace,” said Tedros.
At the end of the briefing, he appealed for greater global attention to the situation in Tigray.
“I can tell you that the humanitarian crisis in Tigray is more than (in) Ukraine, without any exaggeration. And I said it many months ago, maybe the reason is the colour of the skin of the people in Tigray”.
Ukraine nuclear readiness
A senior WHO official has underscored the agency’s readiness to respond to any potential nuclear incident in Ukraine.
Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director, was answering a journalist’s question regarding the deteriorating situation around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
WHO has been involved with the Ukrainian authorities since the beginning of the war, he said, including through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“We’re in constant communication with the IAEA and remain ready as a member of the UN system to react, if there’s a need to react,” said Dr Ryan.
“A nuclear accident obviously would be catastrophic in the situation, to human life and to the environment, so we do remain concerned about that. We’re guided by our colleagues at the IAEA, and will continue to offer medical response support to them and to the Government of Ukraine.”